With a top-two pick for the fourth time in four years, the 2006 draft was always going to be another enjoyable one for the Pittsburgh Penguins. With new GM Ray Shero ready to make his first impact on the team, many speculated that the Penguins may be active in the trade market, perhaps even sending away the second overall pick for some immediate help at NHL level.
It was also speculated that the Penguins craved the player taken first overall by St Louis, big defenseman Erik Johnson. In the end they received perhaps the most complete offensive player in the draft, Peterborough Petes center Jordan Staal. They did address the need for defensemen with later picks, taking three in all from just five total picks.
Jordan Staal, C
1st Round (2nd Overall), 6’4, 215 lbs, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
The Penguins have added another potential star in the making with the drafting of Jordan Staal second overall in the 2006 draft. The third installment of the Staal brothers to be drafted into the NHL, Jordan is blessed with the natural skills of his older brothers and seeks to live the Stanley Cup dream that his oldest brother Eric has just completed.
“I see a young team that has the potential to be a great team,” said Staal to Hockey’s Future after being chosen by the Penguins. “They have a lot of talent in that room and I’m just glad to be a part of that.”
Staal had a great year, leading the Petes in a way that has clearly demonstrated his ability as a power forward. Staal started turning into a scorer during the 2004-05 playoffs and he has not stopped scoring since. He notched 28 goals and 40 assists and 69 penalty minutes in 68 games this regular season and in the OHL playoffs he scored ten goals and added six assists in 19 games. With scouts looking on, however, Staal didn’t have a very noteworthy Memorial Cup, registering just one assist, but the entire Petes team struggled and there were times when Staal displayed brilliant skill and creativity with the puck.
For a big man, Staal is a wonderful stickhandler who cycles the puck well, and so he is ideal for power play duty. His natural ability could make him look nonchalant to some, but he often comes out on top in one-on-one battles. He has the potential to be a dominant power forward in the NHL one day and is projected to play as a first-line center, although he may not get that chance with Pittsburgh having both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin ahead of him. Staal’s ability to convert successfully to the wing will be the key to his success with the Pens.
“I’ll play wherever they put me, it doesn’t really matter to me. As long as I get an opportunity to play I’ll be happy.”
Earlier in his OHL career there were some fears that he takes a night off from time to time, but he quickly dispelled those concerns this year as he was dominant game after game. He brings the complete package of scorer, playmaker, and is defensively responsible at the same time.
Carl Sneep, D
2nd Round (32nd Overall), 6’4, 210 lbs, Lincoln Stars (USHL)
The Penguins continued their love of picking defensemen early in the draft when they took towering American high-schooler Carl Sneep.
Sneep was an honorable mention to the AP All-State Team his junior year, and during his senior year he was named to the AP All-State First Team. The Mr. Hockey finalist was the only high school player to finish his season playing in the USHL playoffs. The Boston College bound Sneep will join 40 other skaters in August competing in Lake Placid, N.Y. for a place on the National Junior Team.
Sneep saw as much ice as he could handle playing for Brainerd and played in all situations. He is a puckmoving defenseman who skates well and is effective playing with the puck. He will need to adjust to the higher level of play in the Hockey East, learning to play one-on-one defensive situations and use his size more effectively.
“For a kid who is 6’4, 210 lbs—he gets around the rink very well,” said Brainerd HS Head Coach Ty Eigner. “Carl, like all 18-year-old defensemen, will need to improve his play in own end. He’s always been good with the puck, but playing one-on-one and understanding the importance of playing the body, considering his size, will be important.”
Eigner commented that Sneep’s experience playing forward through bantam hockey helped develop his comfort level playing with the puck. Eigner also noted that Sneep is one of the most recruit-friendly players his been around during his 10+ years of coaching high school hockey. His coach described Sneep as a quiet leader, with a low maintenance personality, and highlighted his academic success where he scored a 29 on his ACT, and maintained a 3.96 GPA.
Brian Strait, D
3rd Round (65th Overall), 6’0, 200 lbs, US National Team
The Penguins chose a second defenseman with their third choice in the draft, choosing American two-way blueliner Brian Strait.
Strait is a consistent all-around defenseman who has good skating and is willing to play physical. He is not a risk-taker and thinks the game fairly well. He will never be a superstar, but he certainly has the potential to be a very capable top-four defenseman at the NHL level. Strait will now attend Boston University where he will need a couple of seasons to develop his game to have a chance of reaching the top level.
Strait is a fan of former BU and now Pittsburgh defenseman Ryan Whitney and hopes to play with him someday with the Pens, although his game is not quite the same.
“I think he’s a little more of an offense-first kind of guy than myself. I think I defense more than he does. But I’m a two-way player, I’ll play both ways. But I think he thinks offense, he’ll jump up in the play, but stay back if he has to.”
Strait also has designs to make the American team at the next World Junior Championships.
“I don’t know, we’ll see how it goes. The roster is pretty loaded, you gotta go out to the tryout camp and see how I do. I’m hoping, I’m hoping I make the team. I have to keep training this summer, working on some things, and then at the tryout camp I’ve got to play well and then I’ve got to play well too during the season to show that I have what it takes to play there.”
Chad Johnson, G
5th Round (125th Overall), 6’2, 175 lbs, University of Alaska-Fairbanks (NCAA)
The Penguins addressed their goaltending depth, using their fourth pick to take University of Alaska-Fairbanks puck-stopper Chad Johnson.
Johnson, along with sophomore Wylie Rogers, gave the Nanooks one of the CCHA’s best goaltending tandems this season. The Calgary, AB native posted a 6-7-4 record that included a .917 save percentage in 18 appearances. Johnson’s most memorable outing came on Oct. 15 versus Minnesota, where he posted a 38-save performance to preserve a 3-3 tie for the Nanooks in his collegiate debut. Most recently, Johnson was named this year’s recipient of UAF’s Doug Desorcie Award, which is given to the team’s top rookie.
Johnson is a goaltender who is very efficient in his body movements and makes tremendous use of his large frame in covering the net. One of Johnson’s greatest attributes is his meticulous and professional approach to his game. He is the consummate student, always searching for ways to play his position better and more effectively. Johnson possesses a great glove, plays his angles quite well and does a very good job of staying with opposing shooters. While he has good size, Johnson needs to continue to add strength to it.
Timo Seppanen, D
6th Round (185th Overall), 6’1, 209 lbs, HIFK Helsinki (Finland)
The only European taken by the Penguins was Finnish defenseman Timo Seppänen.
Seppänen played his junior years in IFK Helsinki. The metropolitan market gained him some visibility, but on the other hand he has had to fight for it with many quality prospects. He spent the 2004-05 in Jr A, but after elimination returned to strengthen the organization’s Jr B team, where he won the championship. He had won a Jr C gold medal in 2003. Seppänen was never a shoo-in for the national team, but after the successful domestic campaign he made the U18 World Championships, playing well yet inconsistently.
Deep down Seppänen is a simple defenseman by nature, but sometimes he tries to do too much. Although he may not have the most imposing frame or the flashiest puck skills, he is still often seen generating a surprising scoring opportunity or mucking near the own crease. However, Seppänen is fairly mistake-prone and not far long along in development in decision-making.
Matt MacInnis, DJ Powers, Pekka Lampinen and Eric Vegoe contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.