Pittsburgh Penguins 2011 draft preview

By Ian Altenbaugh
Photo: A prototypical power forward with a goal-scorer mentality, Brandon Saad

would be a great fit for a Pittsburgh Penguins organization lacking size and pop on the wing. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Top 10 prospects

1. Simon Despres, D
2. Eric Tangradi, LW
3. Beau Bennett, RW
4. Dustin Jeffrey, C/W
5. Tom Kuhnhackl, C/W
6. Brian Strait, D
7. Robert Bortuzzo, D
8. Brad Thiessen, G
9. Ken Agostino, W
10. Carl Sneep, D

The Pittsburgh Penguins finished the 2010-11 regular season with a 49-25-8 record and 106 points. The most wins since the 1995-96 season, and the most points since the 1992-93 season. They achieved this feet while missing one if not two of their three star centers for the entire season. As good as the team was during the regular season, it was simply outclassed offensively in the post-season, losing in the first round to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Team Needs

The Pittsburgh Penguins lost Jordan Staal, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin all for half of a season so the greatest team need is for those three to be healthy for training camp. Health aside there is a general need for more talented wingers and an above average powerplay. The late-season acquisition of 23-year-old winger James Neal addresses both needs to an extent but the Penguins need at least one more young to mid-age winger capable of regularly potting 25 or more goals a season. Even with a healthy Crosby and Malkin, the powerplay was inconsistent. No changes were made to the coaching staff and few major moves will be made this off-season from a personnel standpoint so improvements will have to happen internally.

Depth forwards Max Talbot, Aaron Asham, Mike Rupp, Chris Connor, and Pascal Dupuis are all unrestricted free agents and it is unlikely the Penguins will re-sign more than one or two of them. The organization also has to make a decision on Tyler Kennedy, a restricted free agent who will be seeking a considerable raise on the 750,000 salary he was making last season.

The team will likely leave one or two spots open for AHLers such as Eric Tangradi or Nick Johnson but expect the same approach as in the past, plugging holes on the roster with low cost free agents.

Organizational Strengths

There is a lot of grit and character at the forward position and lots of size and mobility on defense. There is also talent and depth in goal. From the NHL on down, keeping the puck out of the net is a great strength for the Penguins organization. They allowed the seventh fewest goals in the NHL and the fewest at the AHL level. They also had one of the top penalty killing units in the NHL. Expect this trend to continue.

The defensive prospect pool is deep with players who possess a wide variety of skill-packages. Many, such as Brian Strait or Robert Bortuzzo, are close to being NHL-ready.

There are several forwards such as Tangradi, Johnson, and Joe Vitale who should compete for various roles at the NHL level next season.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Penguins have a habit of leaning on their trio of young veteran centers for offense and their scoring depth was exposed when both Malkin and Crosby were out for the second half of the season. The issue could resolve itself in the coming seasons with the continued progression of forwards like Tangradi, Beau Bennett, or Tom Kuhnhackl but outside of a trade there is no immediate remedy in sight.

While there are many defensemen in the organization who can provide some offense from the blue line such as Simon Despres, none are true offensive defensemen.

Draft Tendencies

The Penguins have five picks in the 2011 draft, the 24th overall pick in the first round, the 54th overall in the second, the 144th overall in the fifth, the 174th in the sixth, and the 209th in the seventh. Assuming no trades are made for picks, it will be the fewest under General Manager Ray Shero since 2008.

While technically it will be the sixth draft under Shero, the 2006 draft was conducted with his predecessor Craig Patrick’s scouting crew. In the past four drafts, the Penguins have shown no distinct preferences other than they have not drafted directly out of the WHL.

The Penguins normally take the best player available in the first round and draft for needs in the later rounds, having addressed a lack of depth in goaltending, defense, and forward in 2008, 2009, and 2010 respectively. This year they will likely lean towards forward again although no position will be off limits.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:

No. 23: Brandon Saad, LW

A Pittsburgh product, Saad is a big power forward, standing at about 6’2 and 210 pounds. He posted only 27 goals in his first season of OHL play, most of which came in the first half of the season, causing his stock to drop in many circles. Regardless, Saad has gifted hands, good skating for his size, and is bullishly strong. He is still at least a year away from professional hockey from a mental standpoint, but is one of the more physically mature players in the 2011 draft class.