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Penguins happy to be out of the front row

Saturday, 06.27.2009 / 11:42 AM / 2009 NHL Entry Draft

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL -- Ray Shero joked that he had to go over to Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland to see if it was OK if he and the Pittsburgh Penguins' scouts sat at the last table on the draft floor.

"I wasn't sure if he had his name on it or not," Shero laughed Friday night, two weeks after seeing his Penguins win the Stanley Cup against the Red Wings.

Shero has been at both ends of the spectrum through his career in the NHL as a scout for the Ottawa Senators, assistant GM of the Nashville Predators and as the GM of the Penguins since May 2006.

Ironically, Pittsburgh went from picking in the top three for four years in a row, to having no pick in the first round last year, to the Stanley Cup and having the 30th and last pick in the first round of the 2009 Entry Draft.

"We had the first pick overall three times when I was at Ottawa -- Alexandre Daigle (1993), Bryan Berard (1995) and Chris Phillips (1996)," Shero said. "With success in Ottawa and Nashville, we
moved back in the first round. But that only makes it more interesting when you're sitting there somewhere between 20 and 30 and you're watching players you like go off the board and you can't do anything about it."

Anxious moments when you consider that the Penguins built the foundation for their championship team with Marc-Andre Fleury (No. 1 in 2003), Evgeni Malkin (No. 2 in 2004), Sidney Crosby (No. 1 in 2005) and Jordan Staal (No. 2 in 2006).

"But I'll take the opposite end of it when it means you've just won the Stanley Cup any time," Shero said. "Being 30th certainly was different. You're still on the phone and talking with other teams looking to move up a few spots or move back and add a draft choice asset or two.

"We had two guys our scouts really liked and tried to move up five or six spots, but nothing worked out. Then, just before we picked 30th, we had the option to move back a couple of spots into the second round. We had been zeroing in on Simon Despres, so I went to around our table to see what the scouts thought. They all said, 'No. We can't take the chance that Despres will still be there.'"

Obviously, Shero had put on his scouting hat at that point.

"You never forget those long days and nights on the road, traveling by car, bus, whatever to get to see a player you have on your list in hopes that he might be an important part of your future," Shero continued. "So you listen to your scouts when they are that passionate about a player.

"In this case, our guys really liked the size and skill that Despres can give us. He's been a terrific matchup defenseman, hard hitter. The important part to remember here is the upside we feel Simon has to improve offensively as well."

Showing that the Penguins still believe in their tradition, Shero and his scouts were just as excited at the end of the second round when they selected defenseman Philip Samuelsson, the son of former Pittsburgh hard-rock defender Ulf Samuelsson. They came right back at the top of the third round with forward Ben Hanowski, the Little Falls High School senior who set career goals-scoring and points records in Minnesota.

"The positions in the draft may change, but your philosophy never changes," Shero said after announcing those three picks. "You go for the assets you think will grow and be around for a long time. Size, speed, skill and character never are out of style, no matter where you pick."