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Pietrangelo thinks right, shoots right

by John McGourty

Niagara IceDogs defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is a two-way player who had 53 points in 60 games this season, leading his team to an OHL playoff berth.
Watch Pietrangelo's scouting video!
There's little doubt that Niagara IceDogs defenseman Alex Pietrangelo will be one of the top selections at the 2008 Entry Draft in Ottawa on June 20-21.

Pietrangelo is renowned for his on-ice vision, passing skills and ability to control the pace of games. He had 53 points in 60 games this past season, placing him seventh among Ontario Hockey League defensemen. Plus, his junior coach says the bigger the game, the bigger he plays.

But the thing that will make Pietrangelo very attractive, as if being the No. 6-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting isn't attractive enough, is that he is a right-handed shot. Fewer than a third of NHL defensemen shoot from the right side, so almost every NHL team has a need in that area.

The amazing thing about the 2008 NHL Entry Draft is that the top six prospects are a center (Steven Stamkos) and five right-handed shooting defensemen -- Zach Bogosian, Drew Doughty, Tyler Myers, Luke Schenn and Pietrangelo. The arrival of these five highly rated defensemen in one year is akin to rain falling after a long drought. At least five NHL teams will satisfy a need that has been eternal in hockey.

If the name Pietrangelo sounds familiar, it's because Alex’s uncle, Frank, won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and backstopped the University of Minnesota to two NCAA Frozen Fours.

"My uncle Frank went through this whole process (he was drafted in the fourth round of the 1983 Draft) and that has helped my family relate to what I'm going through," Pietrangelo said. "Family is everything with me, and my dad has been key to my development. I credit my parents for always doing the right thing by me. As much as I complained when I was a kid, I realized I was just doing it because I was a kid. Without them, I wouldn't be where I am, either in my career or in my personality. They are two great people who know how to raise kids and I respect them for what they've done for me and for who I am.”

Pietrangelo said his goals last season were to help his team improve and to focus on becoming a better two-way player. Confronting his defensive weaknesses was a season-long challenge, he said.

"I sat down at the beginning of the season with IceDogs assistant coach Mike McCourt, who instructs the defensemen, and looked at the strengths and weaknesses of my game," Pietrangelo said. "I asked him what do I have to work on and he pointed out those things and I agreed. We looked at video and worked on the ice throughout the season. We kept tabs on it and it certainly helped me.

"Some people say I play like Chris Pronger, but I think I play more like Nick Lidstrom. He sees the ice well and controls the game at his pace. It's similar to what I do to control the game. He uses body position really well and puts opposing players in positions he wants them to be."

Pietrangelo is an upbeat young man who projects an air of confidence and good upbringing. He found the interview process at the NHL Scouting Combine last month to be a challenge. Time and again, he was asked why he would be a better choice than players ranked in close proximity. He found that he walked a narrow line between confidence and conceit.

"Most of the teams asked where I fit in among the other defensemen," Pietrangelo said. "I didn't want to second-guess myself but I didn't want them to think I was too into myself, either. I think the right way to go is to respect the other players in the draft and not be too conceited. Some of the questions really made me think and helped me to analyze myself as a player and a person.

"I know I have commitment. I'm dedicated to whatever I'm doing, whether it's hockey, golf or fishing. I always want to be No. 1 and I never want to be in the background. My goal is to be a No. 1 NHL defenseman. If a team is going to make a commitment to me, I intend to meet it."

Pietrangelo said winning a bantam national championship with the Toronto Junior Canadiens had a big impact on him.

"That was the first time that I won something big," he said. "It was an accomplishment that came from working at something all year. It was the first time that I realized how great that feeling could be."

Pietrangelo led Niagara into the OHL playoffs this season, where they swept the Ottawa 67’s. He wasn't feeling well but played two more games against the Oshawa Generals before learning what was wrong with him.

"I usually play around 212 pounds but I was steadily losing weight in early April," he recalled. "They found I had mononucleosis and I spent four days in the hospital. Mono causes your spleen to enlarge and I had a little laceration that was causing blood to leak into my body. I probably hurt it again in the second round. I was lucky I caught it when I did because it could have gotten worse."

As a result Pietrangelo was excused from physical testing at the Combine, but it won't have a negative impact on his draft standing. People know he can play hockey and he likes conditioning. He already has a summer-fitness plan that he's about to embark upon.

"Heavy exercise in a couple of weeks, skating the week after and contact sometime soon after that," he said. "I'll be conscientious about my diet and work out twice a day later in summer. I'll be ready well before training camp starts."

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