Penguins 2005 draft evaluation

By Ian Altenbaugh

The 2005 entry draft was the biggest for the Pittsburgh Penguins since 1984 when they took legendary center and Penguins owner Mario Lemieux. After toiling below mediocrity for many seasons, the Penguins, through a special lottery, were granted the right to select all-star center Sidney Crosby first overall.

The presence of Crosby as well as third-round pick Kris Letang helped the Penguins to an unprecedented level of success which not only led to a new arena in Pittsburgh, guaranteeing the Penguins tenure in the city for the next 30 years, but the first Stanley Cup in 17 years.

Sidney Crosby, C, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL) – 1st round, 1st overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL games played: 371

It did not take long for Crosby to become one of the greatest players in Penguins history. In his five years with the Penguins, Crosby has gained quite a collection of hardware including the Stanley Cup, the Art Ross trophy for the league’s top point-getter, the Rocket Richard for league’s top goal-scorer, the Lester B. Pearson Award, and the Hart Trophy for league MVP. He also scored the gold medal-winning goal in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

A leader on and off the ice, since Day 1 Crosby has been the Penguins greatest offensive catalyst. Since the 2005-06 season, Crosby has posted four 100-point seasons, registered over 500 points while averaging 1.36 points per game, scored over 50 goals in 2009-10, and has been a consistently elite playoff performer.

For all intents and purposes, Crosby’s game is flawless. He is smart and reliable defensively, a faceoff ace, fearsome on the forecheck, and plays a physically robust game. He also contributes on both the power play and penalty kill.

Signed through 2012-13, the dynamic young forward should remain a staple in the Steel City for years to come.

Michael Gergen, F, Shattuck-St. Mary’s (Minn) – 2nd round, 61st overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Drafted because of the goal-scoring prowess he showed while playing for Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school, Gergen never quite lived up to expectations. He never posted more than the 14 goals he posted in his freshman season.

After his college career, the Penguins opted not to sign Gergen. As a free agent, the Minnesota native signed with EC Red Bull Salzburg of the Erste Bank Hockey League. He would spend the majority of the season with EC Salzburg, posting four goals and seven assists in 45 games. In February, he would be reassigned to EC Salzburg II, a lower-tier affiliate in the Austrian National League. There he registered four goals and three assists in five regular-season games and two goals and six assists in five playoff games.

Kristopher Letang, D, Val d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL) – 3rd round, 62nd overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 217

After making the team out of training camp in 2006-07 and playing a seven-game stint, Letang was reassigned to Val d’Or of the QMJHL where he remained for the rest of the season.

It did not take long however for the smooth-skating defenseman to get another chance and this time stick with the NHL club. After a lackluster 2007-08 training camp, the then 20-year-old forward was assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The stint lasted only 10 games as Letang was called up to the NHL for good.

Over the next two seasons Letang established himself as one of the brighter up and coming young defensemen in the league, often playing on the Penguins top power-play unit, regularly killing penalties, and averaging over 21 minutes a game. He has also gradually become a steady physical presence in his own end. Through 217 regular-season games, Letang has 21 goals and 58 assists. His performances in the past two postseasons have been even more impressive, however, as the defenseman posted nine goals, 13 assists in 36 games.

The 23-year-old was recently awarded with a four-year contract extension worth $14 million. With a good chance that longtime Penguin Sergei Gonchar will be parting ways with the organization this offseason, expect Letang to take an even more prominent role with the team.

Tommi Leinonen, D, Kärpät Jr. A (Finland) – 4th round, 125th overall
NHL Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

A standout for Kärpät Oulu of the Jr. A SM-Liiga, Tommi Leinonen was selected in the fourth round because of his mobile skating and ability to distribute the puck up ice. Leinonen did not come without concerns, however. Most notably, the 6’2 defenseman did not play a particularly physical style of hockey, often shying away from contact in the defensive zone. To compound matters, he was also not a consistent contributor at the offensive side of the ice.

The young defenseman would spend two more years with Kärpät Oulu, playing for either their Jr. A affiliate or their SM-Liiga team before joining HPK Hämeenlinna with whom he has primarily played with since. 

The 23-year-old is no longer in the Penguins plans as his lack of strength and grit goes against an organization that prides itself on being tough to play against.

Tim Crowder, R, Surrey Eagles [BCHL] – 5th round, 126th overall
NHL Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
Drafted because of his 6’2 frame and offensive touch, Tim Crowder played four seasons with the Michigan State Spartans where he would post 50 goals and 56 assists through 151 games. The most notable accomplishment would have to be the Frozen Four Championship Crowder helped the Spartans to in 2007.

After his senior season in 2008-09, the Penguins opted not to sign him and gave up his rights. Crowder then signed an amateur try-out contract with Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL where he played only one game before sustaining an injury. After recovering from his injury, Crowder was released by the Condors and signed with the Utah Grizzlies. He would finish the season with 11 goals and 17 assists in 45 games.

Jean-Philipp Paquet, D, Shawinigan Cataractes [QMJHL] – 6th round, 194th overall
NHL Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Another defenseman drafted for his smooth skating ability and offensive touch, Paquet was considered a potential steal in 2005. Once considered among the top defensive prospects in the QMJHL, Paquet saw his stock plummet after poor outings at the 2005 CHL prospects game and the World Under-18 Championship.

Despite solid production, 23 goals and 89 assists in 235 games, in which the Penguins retained Paquet’s rights, he never managed to shake the reputation as being a player who did not come up in big games. When it was time for the organization to make a decision they didn’t sign him and he played another season in the QMJHL, finishing his CHL career with 33 goals, 119 assists in 301 games.

After the CHL, Paquet played for the University of Moncton in the Atlantic University Sport league where he has posted two goals and 23 assists and a minus-10 rating in 51 games over the past two seasons.

Joe Vitale, C, Sioux Falls Stampede [USHL] – 7th round, 195th overall
NHL Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Drafted as an overage prospect in 2005, Vitale was selected because of his defensive play and ability to get under opponents’ skin. Opting for the college development route, Vitale played four seasons with Northeastern University, compiling 34 goals, 60 assists and 268 penalty minutes in 143 games as one of the team’s alternate captains.

Vitale continued to cultivate his caustic reputation in the AHL where in 74 games the 24-year-old showed an effective mix of sandpaper and defensive play. Doing enough to drive opponents crazy but rarely crossing the line. By the end of the season he was frequently matched against opponents’ top lines and contributed on the penalty kill. He also chipped in six goals, 26 assists, and 70 penalty minutes.

In January Vitale was given a two-year contract extension signing him through 2011-12. He will be expected to at least compete for a spot on the Penguins 2010-11 NHL roster.