Draft hosts have a big weekend

Saturday, 06.23.2012 / 5:24 PM
Corey Masisak  - NHL.com Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- One day after the Pittsburgh Penguins traded their prized possession from Thunder Bay, Ont., they added another one. As general manager Ray Shero tries to lock up one (and maybe two) famous alums of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, he added another player from the prestigious hockey program.

This weekend for the Penguins was a pretty good representation of the circle of life for an NHL organization.

Day 1 of the 2012 NHL Draft featured a pair of high-profile trades and the addition of three exciting young prospects on defense for the host Penguins. Day 2 was more about restocking the organization’s system with depth at several positions.

"I thought it was really productive for us," Shero said Saturday. "Getting a couple goalies, I thought positionally we did a good job. The extra draft picks this year, obviously we haven’t had them as much in the past, and our scouting staff was pretty enthusiastic."

Shero traded Jordan Staal to Carolina and Zbynek Michalek to Phoenix on Friday night, but the Penguins stuck to drafting Saturday. They made nine picks in the 2012 draft, including seven on Saturday. It is the most the organization has had since 2004 -- Shero has often used picks as trade chips to help the club contend for the Stanley Cup.

The first of those goalies Shero mentioned was third-round selection Matt Murray, a 6-foot-4 netminder from Thunder Bay. He’s pretty familiar with the guy from his hometown who used to play for Pittsburgh.

"I skate with the Staal brothers during the summer," Murray said. "That was pretty interesting yesterday when they made the trade from sort of knowing the guy."

Murray was a highly rated goaltender at the start of this past season while playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. His play and his draft stock were affected when the Soo traded for top prospect Jack Campbell in the middle of the season. Murray ended up playing in only 36 games after expecting to be in net the majority of the time in his draft season.

"At first, it was disappointing. My playing time went way down," Murray said. "I went from playing every game at the start of the season to every five or six games. I think my play fell off because of that. I started to play a lot better towards the end of the year, and I got to play every three or four. It still wasn’t how much I wanted to play, but it was better. I think I finished strong and that helped me in the draft."

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is the most famous alum from Shattuck-St. Mary’s, and there was media speculation this weekend that after the trades of Staal and Michalek, Shero may use the extra salary cap space to pursue one of Crosby’s school pals, pending unrestricted free agent Zach Parise -- if he does not re-sign with New Jersey before July 1.

Pittsburgh did add someone from Shattuck-St. Mary’s on Saturday. Theodor Blueger became a second-round choice by the Penguins after spending the past two seasons playing for the Sabres.

"There is definitely a lot of pictures everywhere of [Crosby at the school]," Blueger said. "Our coach this year, Coach [Tom] Ward, coached him back then. He used him as an example to us and talked about his work ethic and how hard he worked to get where is he now. He used him to motivate us to get better."

Blueger was born and raised in Riga, Latvia, and moved to the United States when he was 14. He went to an English school in Latvia, so he had no language issues when he made the move.

He was actually the second Latvian selected in the draft -- Buffalo nabbed Zemgus Girgensons with the No. 12 pick in the first round.

"Actually, growing up we always played against each other," Blueger said. "We never really talked or anything. The first time I played with him was at World Juniors this year, so I got to know him a little bit."

Matia Marcantuoni went into the 2011-12 season thinking he probably wouldn’t be drafted by a Cup-contending team like the Penguins. After scoring 11 goals and 27 points in 42 games for Kitchener, he was one of the top prospects for this draft from the Ontario Hockey League.

He ended up missing much of his platform year with a shoulder injury, playing only 24 games and missing out on the postseason. The Penguins were able to grab him with the No. 92 pick in the fourth round.

"It was pretty frustrating. I expected to go top-10 at the beginning of year and dropping out, but it is just a number now," Marcantuoni said. "I’m healthy now, and I gained 13 pounds of muscle and ready to prove some doubters wrong."

One thing all nine players the Penguins acquired had in common was the warm reception they received from the crowd. It is one of the perks of being chosen by the host organization.

"It was an amazing feeling," Swedish forward Oscar Sundqivst, who was picked at No. 81 by the Penguins, said. "I’ve only been here a couple of days, but it has been a great city. It is much bigger than where I came from. It has been good. When they call out my name, I was shaking. It was fantastic."

Added Murray: "It was really unexpected. It was one of the teams that I really hadn’t talked to that much, but to have it happen here in Pittsburgh was unbelievable. The crowd was cheering when I put my jersey on. It was really special, and added to what was already an unbelievable day."

Shero’s work this offseason is far from done. While he was unable to get Staal’s signature on a contract extension, he still wants Crosby to agree to one. The captain and face of the franchise can become a free agent a year and a week from now.

Shero will also try to put that newfound salary cap space to use, either through free agency or another trade.

"I think we’re in a position here where we’ve acquired some pretty good players and we’ve acquired some cap space," Shero said. "We’ll sit down as a staff and decide what direction we’re going to go. We’re a little bit different than we were a few days ago.

"We do like our team. I’m not actively looking to trade any more players from our team. If something comes up between now and July 1 or after July 1 because of something we do, that is just what we’ll look at again. A lot can happen in the next 10 days."

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