Penguins 2004 draft evaluation

By Ian Altenbaugh

Despite having the worst record in the league, the Penguins did not gain the top pick in the 2004 Entry Draft, having lost the draft lottery. This meant losing out on the dynamic superstar talent of Alexander Ovechkin. However, things have appeared to have worked out for the team as Evgeni Malkin, the second overall pick of 2004, is a very dynamic and productive center.

The 2004 draft yielded three players who are already key contributors to the Penguins success, most notably Malkin. Tyler Kennedy joined the squad in beginning of the 2007-08 season and has become a fixture along the Penguins third line and second-unit power play. Alex Goligoski made the 2008-09 season out of training camp.

Overall, 12 players were drafted in nine rounds — the last year of the nine-round format. Three have proven to be able to play in the NHL while three more play for the Penguins minor-league affiliates. There are two players, Brian Gifford and Chris Peluso, who the Penguins still maintain the rights to in the NCAA

Evgeni Malkin, C – 1st round, 2nd overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 242

After signing a contract on August 7, 2006 with his Russian team Metallurg Magnitogorsk, the outlook for Evgeni Malkin to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the near future appeared bleak. Five days later, in a cloak and dagger fashion, Malkin appeared in North America. The difficulties did not end there, however. In his first pre-season game on Sept. 20, Malkin collided with
Penguins forward John LeClair and dislocated his shoulder, holding him out of the Penguins first four games. These would be the only four games Malkin would miss in three seasons of play. Malkin finished his rookie season with 33 goals, 52 assists in 78 games en route to the Calder Trophy.

In his second season, Malkin finished second in NHL scoring with 47 goals, 59 assists. The 2008-09 season was Malkin’s coming out party, however, as the Russian tallied 35 goals, 78 assists en route to his first Art Ross Trophy.

The 6’3 forward plays all 250 feet of the ice, does not shy away from physical contact, and is one of the most offensively dynamic forwards in the NHL. The only real flaw in the center’s game is in the faceoff circle as he has finished below 42 percent in his three seasons.

Johannes Salmonsson, F – 2nd round, 31st overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

A scoring winger who played for the Djurgardens IF Stockholm of the SEL, Salmonsson moved to North America for the 2005-06 season and played for the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. In the 54 games he played for the Chiefs, Salmonsson posted 12 goals, 15 assists. He was clearly having difficulties adjusting to the North American style and decided to return to Sweden for the 2006-07 season where he played for Brynas IF Gavle for two seasons. Salmonsson is currently playing for Rogle Angelholm.

The 23-year-old forward has matured and improved his abilities since playing in North America three seasons ago but does not seem destined to return to the NHL anytime soon.

Alex Goligoski, D – 2nd, 61st overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 48

Drafted out of the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL, Goligoski went on to play for the University of Minnesota for three seasons. A top college defenseman, Goligoski posted 98 points in 117 games before signing an entry-level deal with the Penguins in the summer of 2007.

Goligoski made his NHL debut in the 2007-08 season on Feb. 13 and appeared in three games that season. Because of injuries to Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney, Goligoski was pressed into early duty and made the NHL out of training camp. Although he did not look out of place, Goligoski was eventually returned to the AHL for the remainder of the season. In the Stanley Cup playoffs, when Gonchar was felled by a leg injury, Goligoski was once again called up to the NHL where he will finish out the season.

The 23-year-old defenseman has all of the tools to be a superb power-play quarterback for years to come. He carries and distributes the puck with poise, has demonstrated strong backward and lateral skating ability, and thinks an offensive game. Goligoski also has the ability to slow down or speed up the play.

With the Penguins likely to lose some players this off-season to free agency, Goligoski’s spot on the 2009-10 NHL roster is all but assured. 

Nick Johnson, RW – 3rd round, 67th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

After playing in the AJHL for the St. Albert Saints, Johnson was drafted and started the 2004-05 season playing for Dartmouth College. The 6’2 winger played a tenacious checking, high scoring style of game in college, posting 57 goals, 68 assists in 133 games. After graduating, Johnson signed an entry-level deal and joined the Penguins AHL affiliate for their 2007-08 playoff run. Assigned to the ECHL out of training camp to assure he would play top minutes, Johnson posted 14 goals, 10 assists in just 18 games before being permanently recalled to the AHL. Playing for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL, he posted 14 goals, 17 assists in 56 games.

With the Penguins up against the cap next season, Johnson could be given an opportunity in training camp to make the NHL roster. His tenacious checking style and scoring touch allow him to fill a variety of roles for the team.

Brian Gifford, C – 3rd round, 85th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

A standout two-way center for the Indiana Ice of the USHL, Gifford started playing for Denver University in the 2006-07 season – two seasons after he was drafted. Having recently finished his third season in college, Gifford appears destined for a similar two-way role if the Penguins sign him once he is finished with school.

At 6’2, 197 pounds, Gifford is blessed with a long reach, a good hockey mind, and sound defensive abilities. Unfortunately, he is not particularly gifted offensively as demonstrated by his nine goals in 116 games. The Minnesota native does have above average passing ability and chips in with timely goals – four of his nine are game winners.

With Gifford likely to join Denver for another season, his future with the Penguins remains up in the air.

Tyler Kennedy, W – 4th round, 99th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 122

Drafted out of Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL, Kennedy was a tenacious forward for the Greyhounds, playing in the corners, scoring dirty goals, and leading the team in scoring in the 2005-06 season. After a season in the AHL, Kennedy was promoted to the NHL in late October of the 2007-08 season. The speedy forward’s relentless checking style was a good addition to the Penguins roster and he has remained on the team since.

At 5’10, the winger creates space and scoring chances for himself and his linemates by using his size and speed to beat defensemen in the corners and along the boards. While Kennedy has played most of his 122 games on a third line alongside Jordan Staal, he has shown enough offensive talent at times to suggest he could develop into a 20-goal scorer. Consistency is the primary issue for the 22-year-old as he went through a big cold streak in February, posting only one assist in 11 games.

Michal Sersen, D – 5th round, 130th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

When drafted, Sersen was playing on a power play with Sidney Crosby for Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL. Traded to the Quebec Remparts before the 2005-06 season, Sersen posted a career-high 22 goals, 57 assists in 63 games. The next season he returned to his native Slovakia to play for Bratislava Slovan. In two seasons there, the offensively gifted blueliner posted 10 goals, 13 assists in 96 games.

In October of 2008, the Penguins traded Sersen’s rights to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a fifth-round selection in the 2009 draft. The 23-year-old defenseman remains a prospect for the Lightning.

Moises Gutierrez, F – 6th round, 164th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

After his second season playing with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL, Gutierrez was drafted by the Penguins as a physical winger with some scoring potential. While the Alaska native delivered on the physicality, posting 401 penalty minutes over four seasons, he never developed into much of an offensive threat. In the spring of 2006, Gutierrez was given an audition with the Penguins ECHL
affiliate in Wheeling. In his eight regular season appearances with the Nailers, the winger posted 14 penalty minutes and failed to register a point. With the Penguins declining to retain his rights, the 6’4 forward returned to the WHL for one more season. In 2007-08 Gutierrez went pro, playing for the Texas Wildcatters and later the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL. He also made brief appearances in the AHL for the Houston Aeros and Binghamton Senators.

Chris Peluso, D – 7th round, 194th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Drafted out of Minnesota high school, Peluso joined the USHL Sioux Falls Stampede for two seasons before moving to Bemidji State in 2006. Having finished his third season with a Frozen Four appearance, Peluso has steadily progressed as a smart, puck-moving defenseman.

The 22-year-old plays a smart but simple style of game where he does his best when he is not doing too much. He also has a good first pass, is a mobile skater, and can control the puck on the power play. At 5’10, 185 pounds, size is an issue for the left-handed blueliner. He is strong protecting the puck but might not be able to outmuscle bigger, stronger forwards in the NHL.

With Peluso likely to return to Bemidji state for his senior season, the Penguins will maintain his rights for one more season.

Jordan Morrison, C – 7th round, 222nd overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

A gifted two-way center taken late in the draft, Morrison developed into a gifted playmaker with the Peterborough Petes of the OHL. In his four seasons with the Petes, Morrison posted 75 goals and 116 assists in 259 games. At the end of the 2005-06 season, the Penguins opted to not sign Morrison and he then played two seasons in the CIS for Dalhousie University. In 2008-09, he was put on a minor-league contract with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. While playing for the Nailers, Morrison posted 26 goals, 48 assists. He also had eight games with Wilkes-Barre. He is no longer on the NHL radar.

David Brown, G – 8th round, 228th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Drafted after his freshman season at Notre Dame, it was not really until his senior season in 2006-07 that Brown was able to make a name for himself. That season, the Ontario native posted a 1.58 GAA, a .931 save percentage, six shutouts, and a 30-6-3 record. He was also a finalist for the Hobey Baker award. In his first two pro seasons, Brown has split his time between the AHL and ECHL.

The 24-year-old has struggled to play consistently this season. An athletic netminder, Brown is prone to allowing soft goals. Questions about his confidence also exist. With Brad Thiessen recently brought into the system, Brown will have even fiercer competition next season to simply start.

Brian Ihnacak, C – 9th round, 259th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Toronto native was drafted after posting 10 goals, 20 assists in 31 games during his freshman season at Brown University. That, however, was his best season in the college ranks as he finished out the final three seasons posting 23, 9, and 14 points respectively.

After finishing college, Ihnacak went to Europe to play for Kezmarok MHK of the Slovak league. He returned to North Americafor the 2008-09 season, splitting the season between the Elmira Jackals and the Augusta Lynx of the ECHL.