2006 Draft set Pittsburgh Penguins up for present and future success

By Ian Altenbaugh
Photo: In his second season of AHL play, third-round pick Brian Strait has gradually developed into one of the top shutdown defensemen in the league. (Photo courtesy of www.pointstreak.com)

For the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 2006 draft would be the fifth year in a row they would have a top-five selection. The team entered the draft with five picks, having traded away their and their fourth-rounder to the Chicago Blackhawks and their sixth round pick to the Florida Panthers. It was also the first draft overseen by then new GM Ray Shero and the final one overseen by head scout Greg Malone.

Jordan Staal, C, Peterborough (OHL) – 1st round, 2nd overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 341

What made Staal unique to the 2006 draft class was his seamless transition into the NHL as an 18-year-old. With a birthday on September 10th 1988 birthday, Staal was barely 18 years old when he attended the Penguins 2006-07 training camp. Impressed with his size and mature two-way game, the Pens signed him to an entry-level contract. Staal would proceed to post 29 goals, 13 assists, and a team leading plus-16 as a rookie. He also finished third in rookie of the year considerations, a trophy that teammate Evgeni Malkin would take home.

In his second season, Staal took on a great deal more responsibility and averaged 18:16 minutes a game, over three minutes more than his rookie season. His numbers however would dip with only 12 goals, 16 assists, and a minus-five through 82 games. That dip in production was due more to a shift in linemates and responsibilities than any indictment on his play.

In 2008-09, Staal would be united with current linemates Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, finish third on the team in scoring with 22 goals and 27 assists, and add another nine points in 24 playoff games en route to the Stanley Cup. Staal would also sign a contract extension that season, paying him an average of four million dollars for the next four years.

In the 2009-10 season, Staal would further establish himself as one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL, posting 21 goals, 28 assists, and a plus-19 through 82 games. The season ended unfortunately in the 2009-10 playoffs when Staal suffered a severed tendon in his foot, marking the first time he would ever miss time due to injury. The young center somehow only missed several games because of the injury but the damage done to his foot would cause him to miss much of the 2010-11 season.

Now healthy, Staal has recently elevated his play in the absence of Penguin stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, posting three goals and five assists through 12 games without at least one of the two star centers in the lineup. He is also regularly averaging over 20 minutes a game.

The 22-year-old will likely never match the type of heady offensive totals fellow draft classmen Nicklas Backstrom or Phil Kessel have put up. However, there is no reason to believe he won’t continue to develop into a shutdown power forward capable of chipping in around 30 goals a year.

Carl Sneep, D, Lincoln (USHL) – 2nd round, 32nd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games: 0

Whereas Staal was selected with the hope that he would be able to contribute at the NHL level in the immediate future, defenseman Carl Sneep was drafted because of his long-term potential.

Sneep would spend four years with Boston College where he would help his team to two Frozen Four victories and three appearances. After his college career came to an end, he signed an entry-level deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins and was assigned to their AHL affiliate where he currently is plying his trade.

In his rookie pro season, the 23-year-old has put his 6’3 frame to good use and demonstrated a high level of versatility, playing all throughout the lineup in a variety of different roles. What is working against him though is the current logjam the Penguins have at defense.

Brian Strait, D, USNDTP – 3rd round, 65th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games: 0

Stay-at-home defenseman Brian Strait was selected in the third round for his steady, reliable play in his own end. After three seasons with Boston University, where Strait would post five goals and 18 assists in 111 games and help the program to a Frozen Four Championship, the Boston native would sign an entry-level deal with the Penguins.

Now in his second season of AHL play, Strait has established himself as one of top defenseman for the Penguins AHL affiliate and one of the top shutdown guys in the entire league. Paired with the rangy Robert Bortuzzo, Strait has shown the ability to play a responsible two-way game in all situations.

Chad Johnson, G, University of Alaska-Fairbanks (CCHA) – 5th round, 125th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games: 5

Drafted out of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks to add position depth to the organization, Johnson’s college career was mostly unspectacular. In his first three seasons, he managed an 11-19-6 record, suffered a high ankle sprain, and went almost an entire calendar year without registering a win in net. In 2008-09, his senior season, things started to click. His 14-16-5 record was below average but his 1.66 goals against average, .940 save percentage, and six shutouts were among the best in the nation. At the end of the 2008-09 season the Penguins opted to trade Johnson’s rights to the New York Rangers for fifth round pick in the 2009 draft.

Since then, Johnson has played mostly for the New York Rangers AHL affiliate, getting the lion share of starts over the past two seasons. He even had a brief stint in the NHL in 2009-10, making five starts, posting a 1-2-1 record, a 2.35 goals against average, and a .919 save percentage.

Timo Seppanen, D, HIFK Helsinki (SM-Liiga) – 7th round, 185th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

Drafted because of his size and ability to play a simple but smart game, Seppanen drew a lot of attention skating for Team Finland at the 2006 WJC U20. He was one of the top offensive blueliners for Team Finland, tyin
g Teemu Laakso (NAS) with four points through seven games and helping them to a Bronze medal.

Five years after the fact, Seppanen has yet to cross the Atlantic Ocean to play professional hockey. He has spent most of the last half-decade in the SM-liiga, playing for HIFK, HPK, and KalPa. Last May he signed a deal with Södertälje of the Elitserien where he has one goal and three assists through 39 games.