Penguins 2006 draft preview

By Adrian Barclay

Penguins Top 10 Prospects

1. Evgeni Malkin, C
2. Ryan Whitney, D
3. Noah Welch, D
4. Maxime Talbot, C
5. Colby Armstrong, RW
6. Erik Christensen, C
7. Michel Ouellet, RW
8. Alex Goligoski, D
9. Matt Moulson, LW
10. Johannes Salmonsson, C

With the second overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the Pittsburgh Penguins will look to add another potential franchise talent to what is already a stacked roster of young, talented players. This draft will have an extra twist for the Penguins, as the team introduces its first new GM in 15 years, with long-time Nashville Assistant GM Ray Shero joining the team for his first draft.

Shero has helped watch over a Nashville team that has built from expansion, and relied on the draft for its success. This experience should suit his new job which will involve the grooming of many young players into the NHL over the next few seasons. There are a lot of unknowns with Shero taking over, including whether he will trade the Penguins top selection in order to get fill some of the holes in the Pittsburgh line-up – especially a top four defenseman.

Either way, the Penguins are sure to have a better-looking squad at training camp in the fall.

Team Needs

Overloaded with quality centers, the Penguins are in need of some high-class wingers to compliment the depth up the middle. After a failed dip into the free agent market before the 2005-06 campaign, the Penguins changed their angle and started to use some of their prospects in these roles including Colby Armstrong, Michel Ouellet and Erik Christensen with better results. Armstrong in particular had a lot of success in the NHL, but with the impending arrival of Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins are in need of some more quality on the flanks.

The Penguins are also seeking a strong, physical defenseman to add to their stable, and there is no secret that they would love to get American-born Erik Johnson in this draft. But with St. Louis also possibly targeting Johnson, the Penguins may have to find a different way to get the blueliner they are seeking. On a positive note, highly touted Wilkes-Barre defenseman Noah Welch is on his way up and should challenge strongly for a roster spot out of camp this fall.

Organizational Strengths

The Penguins iced another disappointing team in 2005-06, but have plenty of prospects in all positions that are beginning to filter through to the top level. The organization is strongest at center with the likes of Malkin, Christensen, Max Talbot and Ryan Stone being groomed to join Crosby on a regular basis in Pittsburgh.

Defensively the Penguins are improving steadily, with a number of talented prospects in the pipeline. Ryan Whitney proved that he has what it takes at the top level with an excellent rookie season with Pittsburgh. University of Minnesota’s Alex Goligoski is improving nicely and Wilkes-Barre’s young defensive unit including the likes of Ryan Lannon, Andy Schneider and Paul Bissonnette have shown good things as rookies in the AHL this season.

Organizational Weaknesses

Scoring wingers are an urgent need for the Penguins, with only Cornell graduate Matt Moulson in the immediate picture. Moulson has led the Big Red in scoring for his final three seasons there, totaling 71 goals and 67 assists. He will join the Penguins for the 2006-07 season and has a chance of making the top team out of camp, but will not be hurt by a season with Wilkes-Barre. Future potential on the wing includes Jonathan Filewich who had a promising rookie season in the AHL, and the Penguins second round picks from the last two drafts, Johannes Salmonsson and Michael Gergen.

Goaltending depth is a little weak but that doesn’t pose a huge problem with Marc-Andre Fleury the No. 1 man in net for the foreseeable future. With Andy Chiodo falling off the NHL map, St. Cloud State puck-stopper Bobby Goepfert is now the Penguins most promising goaltending prospect. After a season in the wilderness following an academic scandal when attending Providence, Goepfert returned to the NCAA with the Huskies this season and carried them to new heights with some stellar work at the back.

Draft Tendencies

The Penguins have tended to spread their picks around over the last five years, with no clear tendency one way or another. The organization picked plenty of defensemen with their early picks from 2000 to 2002, including Brooks Orpik, Welch, Whitney and Ondrej Nemec. The 2006 draft will represent the fifth consecutive draft where they will have a top five pick, and they have used the previous four to choose two centers (Malkin, Crosby), a defenseman (Whitney) and a goaltender (Fleury). These picks have helped the team develop a high quality core to build around in the future.

The team has also shown that they are not afraid to look outside the box and have picked a Minnesota High School player with an early pick in consecutive drafts. Alex Goligoski was taken with the Penguins third pick, 61st overall in 2004 and Michael Gergen was selected with the team’s second pick, also 61st overall, in 2005.

These trends were watched over by Craig Patrick, so we may see a new approach to the draft with Shero on board.

Hockey’s Future mock draft result: Jordan Staal, C

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