The Pittsburgh Penguins have had a prolific offense for years, and the central characters in their group of forwards could stay together and productive for years to come.
Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero is going to have the ability to supplement those forwards with a crop of exciting young defensemen in the coming seasons. Not all of them will play for Pittsburgh -- touted prospect Joseph Morrow was traded to the Dallas Stars for Brenden Morrow before the NHL Trade Deadline -- but they all are valuable assets and lead the list of top prospects in the Pittsburgh organization.
"I think some of it was best player available," Shero said of drafting so many defensemen recently. "When it was our turn to pick, we had guys who were just very strong on a certain defenseman. All of these guys are really good hockey players who are going to play in the National Hockey League. I can't say when and where the opportunity is going to be, but there is certainly a premium on defensemen in the League.
"When it is time to turn some of your club over, it is really helpful to have guys like that ready to step in. We're looking forward to some of those guys getting into our lineup in the way that Simon Despres has had the opportunity or the way Robert Bortuzzo has had the opportunity. When you talk to people around the League, center icemen and defensemen are definitely the commodities teams are looking for. ... In the end, you are drafting assets, whether it is to play for your team or to be utilized in other ways."
Here's a look at Pittsburgh's top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:
1. Olli Maatta, D: Maatta was the Penguins' second pick in the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft (No. 22), but had they selected him with their first choice, which was No. 8, it wouldn't have been considered much of a reach. In fact, if the draft was held with those players again today, he'd have a chance to be in that top 10.
Maatta (6-foot-2, 206 pounds) had 12 goals and 52 points last season for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League in a total of 78 games between the regular season and their run to the Memorial Cup tournament. The 19-year-old has played for Finland in the World Junior Championship three times, and has a chance to play a fourth at the 2014 WJC. He also has a chance to make the country's roster for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
And he might force his way onto the Penguins roster for opening night.
"Olli Maatta is a guy we think really highly of," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's had a great amount of success playing junior hockey in London. He has to play in the National Hockey League to turn pro. He cannot go to Wilkes-Barre (American Hockey League). He's a guy who is going to get an opportunity in [training] camp to really show what he can do. Whether that is in an exhibition game or a couple of games, he's going to get that opportunity. We want to see him play against pro players and practice against pro players. Depending on which scout you talk to, he's ready to play in the National Hockey League, so we're going to see."
2. Derrick Pouliot, D: The eighth pick of the 2012 draft, his position on this list is more a reflection of Maatta's ability than anything from Pouliot. Each is an elite prospect and could play next to Kris Letang and log lots of minutes for the Penguins someday.
Pouliot, 19, had 13 goals and 65 points in 65 regular-season and playoff games for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, whom he helped win the WHL title and advance to the Memorial Cup. Listed at 5-11, 195, he's an offense-first defenseman who can push the pace and produce points.
"I think he's a 19-year-old player who has a year left of junior if we want, so we'll see where he's at in training camp," Shero said. "He's a dynamic player. It is hard to find players like that with his skating ability and vision and ability to move the puck. It's going to be an important training camp for him to see where he's at. Last year a lot of these guys didn't really have that opportunity, whether it was rookie camp or training camp."
3. Scott Harrington, D: The third member of Pittsburgh's defense trio that participated in the 2013 Memorial Cup, Harrington was Maatta's teammate with London. The 20-year-old had a combined three goals and 23 points in 71 regular-season and OHL playoff games for the Knights, and represented Canada at the WJC for the second straight season. He was the 54th pick in the 2011 draft.
Maatta and Pouliot have plenty of offensive upside, and Harrington (6-2, 205) could provide the defensive cover for them in the near future.
"Scott Harrington is highly touted and has great experience with London playing for the Memorial Cup and playing in the World Juniors with Canada and showed leadership," Bylsma said. "He's turning pro this year and we think a lot of him. He's in the Rob Scuderi-type of mold with what he brings. He's solid, a great defender, really smart and intelligent player. He's going to get his first real look at pro hockey."
4. Brian Dumoulin, D: The third part of the trade package Pittsburgh received for Jordan Staal from the Carolina Hurricanes, Dumoulin turns 22 in early September and could make his NHL debut at some point during the 2013-14 season.
He had six goals and 24 points in 73 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season, and eight points in 15 games in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Listed at 6-4, 219, he doesn't have the offensive upside of Maatta or Pouliot, but the 51st pick in the 2009 draft could be a valuable depth defenseman, offering solid play at a cheap rate, for the Penguins in short order.
"I think his second half and his playoffs were very good," Bylsma said. "He really put himself in a good position to where he's going to get a look in training camp and can add to our team here in games."
5. Tristan Jarry, G: Pittsburgh's first pick in 2013 (No. 44), the 18-year-old goaltender went 18-7-0 for the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL last season. He's listed at 6-1, 183, and had sparkling numbers (1.61 goals-against average, .936 save percentage) last season.
6. Josh Archibald, RW: A sixth-round pick (No. 174) in 2011, Archibald was a breakout performer in college hockey in 2012-13, when the 5-10, 181-pound forward had 19 goals and 36 points in 39 games for the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He will turn 21 in early October and is set for his junior year with UNO.
7. Scott Wilson, C: Wilson, listed at 5-11, 184, had 208 players taken before him in the 2011 draft. The Penguins nabbed him with third-to-last pick and the 21-year-old enters his third season at UMass-Lowell as one of the top players in Hockey East.
Wilson was league rookie of the years as a freshman and returned with the exact same stat line, 16 goals and 38 points, as a sophomore. The River Hawks reached the Frozen Four, where they lost to Yale University in overtime in the semifinals.
"We really like Scott Wilson at Lowell. He's like Josh Archibald," Shero said. "They are similar players. Great speed, and I really liked what we've seen so far from them. There is a lot of speed and skill and tenacity for being later-round picks. We'll let them develop and see how they do."
8. Oskar Sundqvist, C: Sundqvist was a third-round pick in 2012 (No. 81). The 19-year-old has good size (6-3, 182), and he split last season between the junior team and men's team for Skelleftea in Sweden. He had one goal in 14 games in the top league.
"He was just in Lake Placid with the Swedish [junior] team," Shero said. "He's a real big kid, a right-hand shot at center who's going to spend another year in Sweden."
9. Bryan Rust, RW: Rust had 11 goals and 30 points combined in his first two seasons with Notre Dame in the CCHA. He surpassed those totals as a junior, collecting 15 goals and 34 points in 41 games.
Rust, 21, was a third-round pick (No. 80) by the Penguins in 2010. He’s listed at 6-foot, 190, and will be a senior this season with the Fighting Irish.
10. Theodor Blueger, C: A second-round pick in 2012 (No. 52), Blueger had six goals and 19 points in 37 games at Minnesota State-Mankato in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Blueger, 19, is listed at 6-1, 183, and is the second-highest drafted Latvian in League history (Zemgus Girgensons went to Buffalo with the 14th pick of the same draft).
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