Penguins 2005 draft preview

By Adrian Barclay

Penguins Top 10 prospects

1. Evgeni Malkin, C
2. Marc-Andre Fleury, G
3. Ryan Whitney, D
4. Noah Welch, D
5. Colby Armstrong, RW
6. Sergei Anshakov, RW
7. Maxime Talbot, C
8. Matt Murley, C
9. Michel Ouellet, RW
10. Ben Eaves, C

In one heart-stopping moment on Friday in New York, the Pittsburgh Penguins 2005 Draft strategy was determined.

As NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the Penguins had won the draft lottery and with it the prized first pick in this historic draft, the fate of the most talked about prospect in 20 years was sealed, and lies in GM Craig Patrick’s lucky hands. Sidney Crosby will go to Pittsburgh.

By far the most outstanding member of the 2005 draft class, Sidney Crosby will arrive in the NHL after dominating at every stop along the way at junior level. Most recently, Crosby starred for the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic, where he steered the team to the Memorial Cup final, finishing with 168 points (66 goals, 102 assists) in just 62 games. Crosby also excelled in the 2005 World Junior Championships, helping lead Canada to the gold medal with six goals and three assists in six games.

Crosby’s inevitable selection by the Penguins in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft puts the icing on the cake for the men in the team’s front office. After already claiming another top ranked center in Evgeni Malkin last year on top of junior goaltending sensation Marc-Andre Fleury with the first selection in 2003, the Penguins are in an enviable position.

Even before scoring the coveted first pick, the franchise was already approaching the draft with a lot of confidence as they look to continue the rebuilding process which is beginning so successfully. The Penguins have compiled one of the finest stables of young talent in the NHL, and now have most areas of the team stocked. This puts the Penguins in a situation where they can comfortably use the ‘best player available’ approach when selecting in the remaining rounds of the draft.

Team Needs

With young talent to burn, the biggest need for the Penguins is immediate help at the NHL level. The team is expected to make overtures towards several high profile free agents who can complement the youth movement, and also improve on-ice performance. Crosby will be in the NHL line-up on October 5th, and there is also expectation that a number of players who spent the lockout season in Wilkes-Barre will graduate to the NHL level in 2005-06. Those that have a good chance at some ice time include Shane Endicott, Colby Armstrong, Kris Beech, Michel Ouellet and Matt Murley. Other players such as Ramzi Abid, Rob Scuderi and Fleury who have already had some NHL experience seem set to return to Pittsburgh.

Defensively the team has struggled over the past three seasons, and will be looking again to the free agent market to increase depth at the blue line. This will allow the Penguins top defensive prospects in Ryan Whitney and Noah Welch to continue their development at minor league level.

Organizational Strengths

It isn’t too hard to find strengths at every position in the Penguins pipeline. Recent draft days have seen them add a future franchise goaltender in Fleury to consolidate a deep goaltending group including Andy Chiodo, Tomas Duba and Sebastien Caron.

On defense, the Penguins have a good balance between skilled puck movers like Ryan Whitney and Alex Goligoski as well as core blueliners like Owen Sound’s Paul Bissonnette and Harvard duo Noah Welch and Ryan Lannon. A surprise was the loss of offensive defenseman Ross Lupuschuk to Europe, but with Dick Tarnstrom and Ric Jackman already establishing themselves at NHL level, the Penguins have no urgent need to fill any gaps at this position.

The addition of future star center Evgeni Malkin to the organization will provide a much-needed offensive spark to the line-up. Malkin may be NHL ready as soon as this season, as he has already impressed in the Russian Super League and recently skated for Team Russia in the World Championships. Along with Malkin the team has numerous intriguing forward prospects that could be playing in Pittsburgh over the next couple of seasons. Role players Maxime Talbot, Colby Armstrong and Ryan Stone have shown plenty of the intangibles that make them so valuable, but perhaps only Armstrong could step into an NHL role in 2005.

“I think if I can go back and have another good summer and get stronger and hopefully I can step in as a pretty big part of the team” said Armstrong in an interview with Hockey’s Future in April. “But I’ll play however they want me to because I feel like I can play any style.”

Sergei Anshakov, Michel Ouellet and Matt Moulson are the most promising scoring wingers in the organization, but none are considered certainties to be influential at the top level. Ouellet was almost a Pittsburgh lock when he reached the AHL All-Star break with 30 goals for Wilkes-Barre, but faded badly to cast doubt over his long-term outlook.

Organizational Weaknesses

The only glaring weakness at any position is on the wings, where the Penguins lack a game-breaking talent to combine with the depth at center. An excellent rookie season from Ryan Malone was certainly a blessing for the team, but with Anshakov and Moulson still another couple of years away the team is in need of immediate depth here. In the short term, the Penguins are sure to make use of the unprecedented pool of free agents available in the post-lockout NHL, rather than trying to draft this type of player specifically.

Draft Tendencies

Recent drafts have seen the Penguins build depth in key positions including goaltending, defense and grit. In 2004, the Penguins used their first two picks on potential offensive firepower in Malkin and up and coming Swede Johannes Salmonsson. It was also the first time that the Penguins had taken Europeans with their opening two picks since 1998 when they selected Milan Kraft and Alexander Zevakhin.

After adding five more centers to the organization in 2004, expect the choices at forward following Crosby to be wingers. Defense is well stocked, but the Penguins have shown a liking for taking defensemen with early picks, evidenced by their selections of at least one blueliner amongst the first three choices in all but one draft since 1999. Interestingly the Penguins will again have the 61st pick in the draft, after they surprised many onlookers last year by using that choice on Alex Goligoski. The franchise showed a willingness that day to trust in the instincts of their scouts, as Goligoski was ranked well below by outside observers.

Player most likely to be taken with first selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Sidney Crosby, C, QMJHL Rimouski Oceanic.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.