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Caputi's potential has Penguins excited

by Adam Kimelman

Doing it and knowing you can do it are two different things.

Luca Caputi learned the difference last season. He and the Pittsburgh Penguins hope that lesson carries into what should be a very bright future.

Caputi, taken in the fourth round (No. 111) of the 2007 Entry Draft, finished third in the Ontario Hockey League with 51 goals and fourth with 111 points, results nearly double his previous season totals of 27 goals and 65 points.

"If you told me at the beginning of the year that I would score 50 goals, I probably would have laughed," Caputi told "But as the season progressed and it became reality, I stayed focused and confident the whole season."

That focus and consistency was something Caputi wanted to concentrate on heading into the 2007-08 season, and it certainly paid off. He was as good in the first half -- 27 goals in his first 37 games -- as he was in the second -- 24 goals in his last 29 games.

"I just wanted to play the same way, the same style," said Caputi. "I knew I would be successful, but how successfully showed through my statistics. I tried to play a simple game, (play) the same way every night."

Helping Caputi in that vein was his work ethic.


Category Rank (Conference)
2007-08 Points 102
Change from 2006-07 -3
Home Points 57
(1st EAST/3RD NHL)
Away Points 45
(6TH eAst/10TH NHL)
"He dedicated himself to training hard and dropped weight and really got himself into really good physical condition," said Jay Heinbuck, the Penguins' director of amateur scouting. "Now you talk to (the IceDogs) coaching staff, he sets an unbelievable example for the rest of the team. He's a workaholic."

When Caputi first joined the IceDogs, he was overweight at 220 pounds and in poor condition.

"That was the main factor when I first came to junior from AAA," said Caputi. "I was probably around 220 pounds, but it was all baby fat. None of it was good. I learned very quickly in my first OHL camp, and my first coach, Greg Gilbert, said you're not going to be a good hockey player with that weight and conditioning."

What helped Caputi was peer pressure from some of his IceDogs teammates, Patrick O'Sullivan and Daniel Carcillo.

"In the last two years, he's seen guys he played with being drafted," said Mario Cicchillo, a former IceDogs assistant who became coach last season. "We had on our team the one year Patrick O'Sullivan. … and he had great habits, on-ice and off-ice. Another guy we had was Daniel Carcillo, and he was the same thing, days off he'd be skating, he'd be one of the hardest workers in the gym. He'd see the guys working, and think if I want to get to the National Hockey League, I have to pay attention to off-ice training."

There some good early returns. After scoring just eight goals in his first two junior seasons, he had 27 goals and 65 points in 2006-07.

The jump to the following season, though, was stunning.

"You'd like to think a kid is always going to have a jump in production year after year, so I did expect a jump," said Heinbuck, "but I didn't think he'd be a 50-goal scorer in the OHL. We saw some intriguing qualities; we saw he could put the puck in the net. … I did some homework on him, and if you go back in the past he had been a scorer in minor hockey (so) he has run numbers in the past. It didn't surprise me his production increased, but not that much."

Cicchillo, who had a front-row seat, wasn't all that surprised. He's known Caputi since he was 7 years old, and knew just what kind of player he was dealing with.

"He was always a goal scorer," said Cicchillo. "He could always score goals; I've seen him first-hand as he played minor hockey. … Goal scorers never really lose their touch and he proved it."

Beyond the numbers, the Penguins also have been impressed with Caputi's hockey sense and demeanor on and off the ice.

"He always was around the puck or always 6-10 feet from a teammate (for) support, out-number guys," said Tom Fitzgerald, the Penguins' director of player development. "That's his asset. When I followed him during the season, it showed how well he supported the puck. The analogy is a (baseball) second baseman. You don't sit there and ask yourself, what do I do if the ball is hit to me. It's before the batter steps in the box, you know where you're going with the ball if it's hit to you.

Last season was Fitzgerald's first overseeing the Penguins' prospects; he took an instant liking to Caputi when they first met.

"'When I'm breaking out, I'm down low, where's my centerman, where's their defenseman pinching?' However he did it, he displayed to me great hockey sense. And to me that's something you can't teach."

"I think Luca has his head is screwed on right," said Fitzgerald. "He sets goals, but his goals are team-oriented. … His goals were to take his team to the Memorial Cup if I can and earn myself an NHL contract, and I thought this was great. It was all team-oriented, which in turn would help him reach his goal of getting an NHL contract."

He reached that goal in late April, when he signed his first professional contract, and rewarded the Pens with four goals and eight points in 19 American Hockey League playoff games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Caputi says he feels no extra pressure to perform an encore.

"You have to believe in yourself and believe you can do it, and trust yourself that you can do it," he said.

He's already shown the work ethic to drop from 220 pounds to the 185 he played at last season. Standing 6-foot-3, he now is working to add some good weight.

"This summer I worked to get stronger, and I put myself on a high-carbohydrate diet, so my caloric intake would be higher, but I could still work out," said Caputi. "I'm at 198 now. I did a body fat test last week and I was at 8.9. I'm pretty lean and pretty happy right now."

The Penguins also are happy with Caputi. And even with all the well-known offensive firepower in Pittsburgh, it's possible he could win an NHL job in training camp.

"I think that's why you have training camp -- it's an open tryout," said Fitzgerald. "If he comes into camp and plays hard, plays smart, plays the way he's capable of playing, he puts himself in a position to be successful and move up the professional totem pole."

"I talked to the coach (Michel Therrien) and I talked to Tom Fitzgerald a couple times," said Caputi. "What they told me was go to camp and they have no plans for me. Where I start is up to me. They want me to go there and prove myself again."

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