Penguins 2008-09 rookie review

By Ian Altenbaugh

The Penguins started the season with several players on injured reserve and continued to lose players faster than they could return as the season wore on. As a result, eight prospects were recalled from the Penguins AHL affiliate during the regular season, six of whom made their NHL debuts. Of the players who were recalled, defenseman Alex Goligoski was the greatest contributor. However, players such as Dustin Jeffrey, Luca Caputi, Ben Lovejoy, and John Curry showed they may be ready for greater responsibilities next season.

Alex Goligoski, D
2nd round, 61st overall, 2004

The Penguins rookie who made the most impact over the 2008-09 regular season, Goligoski was given an extra look in training camp because Ryan Whitney had undergone off-season corrective ankle surgery and was slated to return in January. After Sergei Gonchar injured his shoulder in a pre-season collision with David Koci, Goligoski had his ticket punched to open the NHL regular season against the Ottawa Senators in Stockholm, Sweden. Held out in the first of two games against the Senators, Goligoski scored a power-play goal in his first NHL start, a 3-1 loss on Oct. 5.

A 23-year-old from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Goligoski’s greatest asset is his ability to move the puck. Combined with strong backward and lateral skating, his puck-moving ability was primarily utilized playing the point on the power play, where he registered four goals, four assists in 45 games. Goligoski also had a fair amount of offensive success as a third-pairing defenseman in even-strength situations, registering two goals, 12 assists. After Ryan Whitney returned to the NHL however, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Goligoski would be returned to the AHL. He was no longer registering points with regularity and saw his time on the man-advantage continue to decrease. Upon returning to the Penguins AHL affiliate in early February, Goligoski made an immediate impact as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton posted an 18-9-2-1 record since his return.

With the Penguins scheduled to lose several players through free-agency this off-season, Goligoski will be again be given a long look during training camp. Nonetheless, the 5’11, 180-pound defenseman needs to get a little strong to better withstand the rigors of the NHL.

Tim Wallace, RW
Signed as undrafted free agent in 2006

The native of Anchorage, Alaska was recalled in early December after forward Tyler Kennedy went down with a knee injury. After a 13-game cup of coffee that last around a month, Wallace was returned to the AHL. He did make three more NHL appearances in late February and early March.

Embracing his role as a checking forward, Wallace throws around his 6’1, 207-pound frame with vigor, pins opposing defensemen against the boards effectively, and will drop the gloves if necessary. Wallace endeared himself to Penguins fans in a 5-2 loss to Boston in which he dropped the gloves and held his own against a much bigger Milan Lucic.

Wallace will likely never be anything more than a serviceable fourth-line forward in the NHL as he has never scored 15 goals at any level of hockey in his career. That said, he has proved to be an effective fourth-line forward at the NHL level and is smart defensively.

Dustin Jeffrey, C
6th round, 171st overall, 2007

When injuries were sustained to Mike Zigomanis and Tyler Kennedy, the Penguins called up Dustin Jeffrey from their AHL affiliate.

During his 14-game stay, Jeffrey was primarily used in a checking line role. He averaged 10:47 a game, mostly in even-strength situations. He did however start to kill penalties as the coaching staff gained more confidence in him. In the AHL, Jeffrey was considered a faceoff ace. While that did not initially translate to success in the NHL, Jeffrey did gradually improve in the circle as he became more assimilated to the NHL. He also played tenaciously on the forecheck and did not register a single penalty while in the NHL.

While Jeffrey has proven to be a strong two-way pivot in the AHL and has shown promise in his brief stay in the NHL, he needs to further develop his offensive game. The Penguins roster was riddled with injuries and Jeffrey was typically paired with fellow AHLers when on the ice but more was to be expected than the one goal, two assists he registered over 14 games.

Luca Caputi, LW
4th round, 111th overall, 2007

Brought up from the AHL because of an injury to Ruslan Fedotenko, Caputi started his NHL career by scoring a goal on his first shift of his first NHL game.

However, the 20-year-old forward was not quite ready for the NHL as his minutes dwindled from the 15:11 he logged in his first game to 6:12 in the game he played before returning to the AHL. When Caputi was first called up, he saw time on the power play and skated even-strength alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. By the time he was returned to the AHL, he was playing on a fourth line and did not see any time on special teams.

There is no reason to lose hope, however. In his cup of coffee, Caputi showed a tenacious style of play on the forecheck and a willingness to take a beating in front of the net. With some added strength and more discipline, Caputi could develop into an NHL-caliber power forward in the very near future.

Ben Lovejoy, D
Signed as undrafted free agent in 2007

Among the plus/minus leaders for the Penguins AHL affiliate, Lovejoy was given a cup of coffee in early December because of an injury to defenseman Philippe Boucher. In his brief stint, Lovejoy averaged 11:53 playing on the man-advantage and in even-strength situations.

Lovejoy is an all-situation defenseman in the AHL who keeps his game fairly simple. The 6’2, 214-pounder has a good outlet pass, and while he is not known for his physical play, he does not shy away from the dirty work along the boards and around the net. He is also an adept shot blocker. His right-handedness is an asset the Penguins organization lacks – particularly in their even-strength play. Lovejoy’s ability to move the puck up ice coupled with his smart defensive play provide the coaching staff with many different options on special teams.

There is strong belief that Lovejoy will be given an opportunity to compete for a regular spot on the NHL roster out of training camp next fall.

Bill Thomas, C

Signed as free agent in 2008

Another of the Penguins rookies who made the team out of training camp, Thomas joined the Penguins for their trip to Stockholm and dressed for the second of a two-game series with Ottawa. Upon returning to North America, the Pittsburgh native was returned to the Penguins AHL affiliate.

Thomas seemed to have found a role with the Penguins in mid January as a fourth-line center and a player who can be relied upon to take important faceoffs. His offensive production was modest at only two goals, one assist in 16 games but he was relegated to a checking role on the team and averaged 9:31 a game. 

Paul Bissonnette, W

4th round, 121st overall, 2004

In hopes that he would bring added toughness to the team, Bissonnette made the Penguins roster out of training camp and joined them in their season opener in Sweden. The 24-year-old forward was used primarily as a middle enforcer and averaged only 3:31 minutes a game in his 15 appearances.

Bissonnette is a fearless enforcer who is willing to drop the gloves with anyone who will join him. He is also effective at throwing around his body and can play on the forecheck. Still, if Bissonnette is to make a living in the NHL, it will be through his willingness dropping the gloves.

John Curry, G
Signed as undrafted free agent in 2007

When Marc-Andre Fleury went down with a groin injury, the Penguins called up Curry from their AHL affiliate to back up Dany Sabourin. Although he saw only two starts and some spot duty, Curry showed poise and demonstrated the athleticism that gave him such great success in the NHL. He finished with a 2.40 goals against average which is half a goal lower than the team average of 2.91 goals allowed per game. He also finished with a .913 save percentage.

Another quality that Curry demonstrated which will be important moving forward in his career is the ability to play at a high level when called upon despite long stretches of inactivity. Because Marc-Andre Fleury is signed to a long-term deal and is the de facto starter, it is important that Curry learns to stay focused and sharp despite lack of starts.

With Mathieu Garon scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, Curry will be given every opportunity to win the backup spot behind Fleury.