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Penguins hope kids can step up

Thursday, 08.28.2008 / 9:00 AM / Prospects

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The Pittsburgh Penguins are regarded as having some of the best young talent in the NHL because most of their best young players -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury -- already are in the League.

With the departure of top-six forwards Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa and with defenseman Ryan Whitney on the mend from surgery, there will be some openings on the big club's roster in 2008-09 -- and the Pens could look within to fill the holes.

"We've got a couple centermen that we think are going to be NHL players," said Jay Heinbuck, the Penguins' director of player personnel. "I think we've got a decent mix of centers, defensemen."

"I compare him to Viktor Kozlov, a big guy that skates well and moves the puck well. His maturing level is at 24, 25 years old. When he gets there, he might be at 230, 240 pounds." -- Penguins' director of player personnel Jay Heinbuck on Keven Veilleux

The Pens' top farm team, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, made it to the AHL Final before losing to Chicago. Pittsburgh added to its talent haul with an abbreviated turn through the 2008 Entry Draft that saw the Penguins make just four selections.

Here's a look at some potential future Penguins.

FORWARDS
   
Keven Veilleux -- The Penguins' second-round pick in 2007 (No. 51 overall), Veilleux has a classic power-forward build at 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds.

Veilleux had 17 goals and 64 points in 61 games, split between the Victoriaville Tigres and Rimouski Oceanic in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He added seven points in nine playoff games for the Oceanic.

Heinbuck sees nothing but upside for the 19-year-old. Veilleux is a natural center, but with the Pens' depth down the middle, his NHL future likely will be on the wing.

"When we drafted him, we knew that being a big guy he had to get his quickness improved and he's addressed that and he's going to address it this summer," Heinbuck said. "He's assured us he's going to work very hard this summer. His body has grown so fast that maybe his muscles haven't kept up with his bones. He's got a real good stride.

"I compare him to Viktor Kozlov, a big guy that skates well and moves the puck well. His maturing level is at 24, 25 years old. When he gets there, he might be at 230, 240 pounds."

Luca Caputi -- Caputi, the Pens' 2006 fourth-round pick (No. 111), had an outstanding season with the Niagara IceDogs, finishing third in the Ontario Hockey League with 51 goals and fourth with 111 points. Added to the AHL roster for the playoffs, Caputi had four goals and eight points in 19 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

A 6-foot-3 left wing, Caputi needs to add muscle to his 185-pound frame to make the jump to the next level.

"He probably thinks he needs to get back and get stronger," Heinbuck said. "He's realizing he's not far off his dream. You can tell how badly he wants it. His determination is good. He's got such good all-around hockey skills. He's a smart, poised player. He's not a flashy player, but he's in the right place. He's got incredible hockey sense."

Heinbuck believes Caputi has an outside shot of making the Pens' roster next season.

"In the organization's mind, he's going to need some seasoning in the American Hockey League," Heinbuck said. "But he made great strides last summer, so who knows what he's capable of."

Dustin Jeffrey -- Jeffrey also had an outstanding season in the OHL, leading the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds with 38 goals, 59 assists, 97 points, 17 power-play goals and a plus-25 rating in just 56 games.

Taken in the sixth round (No. 171) of the 2007 Draft, Jeffrey also is considered strong in the faceoff circle and a solid penalty killer.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
2007-08 SEASON STATS

Category Rank (Conference)
2007-08 Points 102
(2ND EAST/4TH NHL)
Change from 2006-07 -3
Home Points 57
(1st EAST/3RD NHL)
Away Points 45
(6TH eAst/10TH NHL)
The Penguins signed the 20-year-old center last fall, and he will start his pro career this coming season, likely with the AHL Penguins.

"We're not going to send him back (to junior) as an over-ager," Heinbuck said. "He signed last fall, he was that impressive in training camp. We envision him probably starting the year in Wilkes-Barre and getting some seasoning."

Some of that seasoning will include the 6-3, 199-pounder getting faster and stronger.

"With Dustin, he needs to work on his quickness and his overall strength," Heinbuck said. "Those two things are what's probably followed him around the last couple years. We just saw too much skill and too much hockey sense to overlook. His quickness improved and we don't think he's near the peak of what his skating will be the next couple years."

-- A star with the Merritt Centennials of the Tier II British Columbia Hockey League, Zabotel lost time last season when he failed to gain admission to Michigan Tech and ended up with the WHL's Vancouver Giants in November.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound left wing had 48 points in 49 regular-season games, and six points in 10 WHL playoff games, but the Pens were hoping for more from their 2007 third-round pick (No. 80).

"Casey is behind the curve a little bit as far as the plan that was kind of mapped out for him," Heinbuck said.

A good training camp, though, could land him in the AHL.

"It's up to Casey," Heinbuck said. “If he has a good summer and impressed in the fall, he'll be eligible to play in Wilkes-Barre.


"He's an exciting talent. Pittsburgh really covets him. He's a guy that's knocking on the door." -- Jay Heinbuck on Alex Goligoski

"I  think Casey has to improve his quickness and learn to play at a higher pace, be on the move more often. He played a couple years in Tier II which was a little slower and he could control the pace. He's very good at protecting the puck, but he really didn't have to turn his feet over like he would as he climbs to various levels."

Nathan Moon -- With just four picks in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Pittsburgh knew it wasn't going to get an immediate, high-impact player.

That said, the Penguins were very happy that Moon, a 5-11, 179-pound center from the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL, was available when their first selection came, in the fourth round (No. 120). Moon led his team with 35 goals, 42 assists and 77 points, but he'll need to get better defensively to take his game to the next level.

“He's really clever with the puck, he protects the puck well, he moves the puck well," said Heinbuck. “We thought he could slide because he's got to learn to be more committed defensively and maybe work a little harder on the ice in both directions, not just offensively."

DEFENSEMEN

Alex Goligoski -- A second-round pick in 2004 (No. 61), Goligoski made a strong debut with the Baby Pens, leading first-year AHL defensemen with 28 assists and 38 points, and earning a spot on the AHL All-Rookie Team. He also had 10 goals and a plus-15 rating in 70 games, and was even better in the playoffs, finishing second among all players with 24 assists and 28 points in 23 postseason games.

The 6-foot, 178-pounder also had two assists in a three-game NHL call-up.

"For him the issue coming out of college (Minnesota) was getting stronger," Heinbuck said. "I think he's addressed that, or he's showing that he can compete for a job at the strength he has right now. But after going through a whole season plus playoffs in the American Hockey League, he's realized he has to get a lot stronger. He's an exciting talent. Pittsburgh really covets him. He's a guy that's knocking on the door."

Carl Sneep -- The Pens' second-round pick in 2006 (No. 32) is no stranger to playing for championships.

Sneep, a 6-3, 205-pounder, played a major role in Boston College's run to the NCAA championship this spring. Sneep missed most of the NCAA title game after blocking a shot with his foot in the first period and suffering a high ankle sprain. He is expected to be healthy in time for next season.

Sneep had 15 points in 44 games and was a plus-15 for the Eagles last season.

"He was drafted with a bit of offense to him, but he's projected to be an all-around defenseman," Heinbuck said. "Puck decisions, getting his feet quicker in the defensive zone, that's where we're looking for him to improve. He's got size. He's not piling up the points in college, but he's making strides."

Heinbuck believes a lot of those strides will come in the offensive part of his game.

"It's what role does his coaching staff envision for him in the next couple years," he said. "In college a player has to wait until his junior or senior year, if he does have those offensive capabilities, he's got to wait for his opportunity. I envision him having some more development time in college."

Brian Strait -- While Sneep has collegiate hardware, Strait, who plays across town at Boston University, earned his on the international scene.

A 2006 third-round choice (No. 65), Strait won a gold medal with the U.S. team at the 2006 Under-18 World Championships and captained the U.S. team to a fourth-place finish at the 2008 World Junior Championship.

The 6-1, 200-pounder had 10 points and 20 penalty minutes in 37 games with the Terriers last season.

"What really jumps out with Brian is leadership capabilities and determination," Heinbuck said. "He does a lot of things well -- not one thing exceptionally well, just does a lot of things well. Everywhere he's gone he's been a quality teammate. His leadership and work ethic rubs off on other people."

Strait will be an assistant captain at BU next season, where the Pens hope he'll continue to develop into a steady, all-round defenseman.

"It's just time for him to improve a little bit of everything," Heinbuck said. "Get a little quicker, puck decisions, but he's a solid defensive defenseman. We're still wondering if there's a little bit more offense under the surface than he's shown so far."

Robert Bortuzzo -- The Penguins' third-round pick in 2007 (No. 78), Bortuzzo is a big, physical blueliner who the Pens are very happy with.

In his second season with the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers, the 6-4, 207-pounder had 18 points and a plus-23 rating in 52 games, then added eight points and a plus-18 rating in 18 playoff games as the Rangers won the OHL title and advanced to the championship game of the Memorial Cup. He usually played against the other team's best forwards.

"He's only 207 pounds now," Heinbuck said, "but when we see the end product, he could be a guy playing at 225 or 230. He's got a good work ethic, he doesn't get beat one-on-one, he has good puck skills. I don't envision him being an offensive defenseman, but his passing is above average."

Nicholas D'Agostino -- The Penguins are taking a long-term approach with D'Agostino, their final selection of the 2008 Draft (No. 210).

The 6-1, 177-pounder had 23 points in 46 games with the St. Michael's Buzzers of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League last season.

"Our evaluations on him have been really, really good all year. Just because of where he comes from and the ambiguity in that situation, he's another guy that we thought might fall to us. And when it got to the fifth round, we said we're not letting this guy go any further." -- Jay Heinbuck on  Alexander Pechurski


"We liked his skating ability, his tenacity, he moves the puck pretty well," Heinbuck said. "The issue with him is strength and maybe develop his offensive game."

D'Agostino will play one more season at St. Michael's, where it's expected he'll quarterback their top power play, before moving to Cornell starting in 2009-10.

GOALIES

David Brown -- The club's eighth-round pick in 2004 (No. 228) made his professional debut last season with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL and finished the season in the AHL. After posting a 3.31 goals-against average in 14 ECHL games, he went 9-7-1 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in 19 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Brown ended his college career at Notre Dame on a remarkable high, going 30-6-3 in 39 games, with a 1.58 GAA and .931 save percentage.

"He's a guy that hoped to have a better season this year," Heinbuck said. "He had a solid career at Notre Dame. Maybe it's going to take a bit for him to find his way, but we still consider him a prospect."

Alexander Pechurski -- The Penguins believe the lack of a transfer agreement allowed them to snag the Russian netminder with the next-to-last pick in the fifth round (No. 150).

Pechurski plays with Magnitogorsk's junior team, but made his name at international tournaments.

At April's Under-18 World Championships, he went 4-0-1 with a 3.06 goals-against average and .885 save percentage. The previous year, he went 2-1 with a 3.90 GAA and .861 save percentage.

"Our evaluations on him have been really, really good all year," Heinbuck said. "Just because of where he comes from and the ambiguity in that situation, he's another guy that we thought might fall to us. And when it got to the fifth round, we said we're not letting this guy go any further."

Patrick Killeen -- The Pens continued to add to their goaltending prospect list with their sixth-round pick (No. 180), a big (6-4, 194) puckstopper who was a rookie with the Ontario Hockey League's Brampton Battalion last season.

Killeen was second among first-year OHL netminders with a 2.76 GAA and .908 save percentage. He went 20-9-2 with one shutout.

"I liked his size and athleticism and quickness," Heinbuck said. "He's a good athlete and he's quick. That, along with the size, we think this could eventually come together. He has a chance of really developing."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.



Quote of the Day

I didn't even know how to celebrate. I threw my hands up, they gave me a hug, so I guess that's all I needed.

— Sabres forward Tim Schaller on scoring his first NHL goal Sunday against the Bruins