The Pens closed out the 2015 rookie tournament with a 6-2 loss to Toronto on Sunday. Winger Daniel Sprong got his second goal of the tournament while free-agent forward invite Sahir Gill also scored. In lieu of three impressions, on the six-hour drive back from London following the game I wrote down my five takeaways from the tournament...1. WBS’ new coaches will be excellent
After spending time with new WBS head coach Mike Sullivan and assistant Jay Leach this weekend and seeing them behind the bench for the first time, I’m excited about how they’re going to be able to help players in the organization grow and develop. Sullivan’s experience as both a player (four years of college hockey at Boston University and over 700 NHL games) and a coach (13 years in the NHL, AHL and international levels with USA Hockey) alone would be enough, but his energetic and enthusiastic personality adds even more to what he brings. Meanwhile, Leach is just a couple of years removed from being a player himself so he can easily relate to what the guys are going through. Working with those two men is going to be so beneficial for players trying to make it at the next level. 2. So far, Daniel Sprong is as advertised
After the Pens took Daniel Sprong in the second round (46th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft, director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton told me, “The two famous lines from every draft are ‘we couldn’t believe he was still there’ and ‘we had him a lot higher on our list.’ Both were true today for Sprong.” And after this weekend, I can see why. The 18-year-old played in all three games and starred in every one, scoring twice – including the overtime game-winner off a breakaway on Friday. Sprong’s overall offensive ability was just so impressive. He was a threat every time he was on the ice and what stood out to me the most was how dangerous he was when he had the puck on his stick, which seemed to be the majority of the time. He could either use his NHL-ready release to snipe it himself or make a creative play to get it to someone else. He was such a standout here that I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how he looks skating with NHL players at training camp this week. 3. The Pens have built up depth at forward throughout the organization
We talk so much about the depth up top in Pittsburgh, but I think this weekend proved that the team has built a lot of forward depth throughout the organization as a whole. In previous rookie tournaments, the Penguins tended to have an embarrassment of riches at defense while having to invite free agents to fill up spots at forward. That wasn’t the case this year, as just two of the 16 forwards on the roster were here on tryout contracts. And I was blown away by how that group looked as they combined for 11 goals in three games. Obviously guys who have seen time in the NHL, like Bryan Rust and Scott Wilson, stood out as expected. But there were a lot of others that impressed as well. A lot of these marathon prospects drafted a few years back – ones who have been developing in the organization for a number of years as they played with their respective college and junior teams – are reaching the end of the race. Pair them with talented free agents who have been signed into the organization like Conor Sheary and Jean-Sebastien Dea, and there’s a lot to be excited about.4. The future is bright in goal
Both Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry will be in the pros this year, and this weekend was the first real chance to see them together as a tandem heading into the 2015-16 season. And it was a treat. With two talented prospects like that who have achieved a lot in their young careers, you spend a lot of time reading and writing about them but never actually get to see them play a whole lot. So having the opportunity to watch Pittsburgh’s goalies of the future in action was exciting, and they both looked great.5. Everyone has a chance
It may seem like Pittsburgh’s lineup is all but set with all of the wheeling and dealing general manager Jim Rutherford did this offseason. But any one of these players at the rookie tournament who is also invited to main camp has a chance to make the opening-night roster. If they are impressive enough, the Pens will find a way to clear a spot for them. A few of them certainly started laying the groundwork this weekend in front of all of management and the Pittsburgh and WBS coaching staffs. We’ll see who can continue building off that this next week.
THREE IMPRESSIONS: PIT 4, OTT 1
The Pens continued rolling through the 2015 rookie tournament, besting Ottawa 4-1 on Saturday. Jaden Lindo, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Matia Marcantuoni and Anton Zlobin all scored for the Pens, with Tristan Jarry stopping 34 of 35 shots between the pipes. Here are my three impressions from the game…1. DEA BUILDING CONFIDENCE
After yesterday's 4-3 overtime win over Montreal, both assistant general manager Bill Guerin and WBS head coach Mike Sullivan singled out Jean-Sebastien Dea as a player who impressed them. And the forward had another terrific performance today, scoring a big power-play goal and centering the top line with Bryan Rust and Daniel Sprong. Dea has always been such an intriguing player because he has such phenomenal hands, and it's so evident every time he plays. But while he has that pure goal-scoring ability, his biggest setback in the past has been his size, as he's listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds. But he told me after the game he's continuously working on getting bigger and stronger and this summer he got 15 pounds heavier, and he feels it shows on the ice. He feels like he's faster, stronger, has been winning more battles and creating more offense, and I would have to agree.2. JARRY CALM AND STEADY
Tristan Jarry was 42 seconds away from earning a shutout, which says all you need to know about his performance. He was tested early, as the Senators came out strong – creating a lot of quality chances and offensive-zone time in the first 10 minutes of the opening period. But Jarry was able to come up with timely saves and kept his team in the game until they could get their feet under them. "I thought he was solid," Sullivan said. "I thought he was really composed. He had a calm demeanor back there, and I think that rubs off on the rest of your team when you have a goalie back there that can make a timely save. But just his demeanor (stood out). He was in control of his crease. He handled shots clean. He didn't leave a lot of rebounds for his defensemen to defend, so he was a big influence on our team."3. D IN FRONT
All of the players who should be standing out – from the ones who have seen NHL games to the highly-touted prospects – have been standing out. But I want to give credit to the group of guys on D who came together and played a fine game in front of their goaltender tonight. Derrick Pouliot had the night off, so it was Harrison Ruopp and five free-agent invites in Miles Liberati, Matt Murphy, Mickael Beauregard, Nat Halbert and Clark Seymour who were tasked with defending the net. And they did a phenomenal job. They played smart and simple and got the job done.Postgame videos...Jean-Sebastien Dea Tristan Jarry Mike Sullivan
THREE IMPRESSIONS: PIT 4, MTL 3 (OT)
The Pens had a terrific start to the 2015 rookie tournament on Friday, beating Montreal 4-3 in overtime. Scott Wilson, Ty Loney and Oskar Sunqvist all scored in regulation, with Daniel Sprong getting the winner on a breakaway. Matt Murray made 28 saves in net. Here are my 3 impressions from the game...
1. FORWARD CHEMISTRY
Credit to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Mike Sullivan, making his Pens debut behind the bench, for putting together forward combinations that seemed to immediately click. I felt like every line had chemistry and created chance after chance. I liked the trio of Wilson, Jean-Sebastien Dea and Sprong (more on him below) the most. Wilson's speed meshed with Dea and Sprong's goal-scoring ability made for fun hockey. The second line had two big men in Sundqvist and Tyler Biggs paired with 2015 draft pick Dominik Simon, who's an intriguing blend of size and skill, and they made a lot happen. Finally, Conor Sheary and Loney read and reacted off each other so well. Sheary said he thinks of himself as a playmaker first and foremost, and he did a great job of getting the puck and getting it to Loney, who did a fantastic job of getting open for his passes.
2. D IMPRESSES
Every other time I've come to this tournament, the Pens' blue line has been filled with blue chip defensive prospects. This year, apart from Derrick Pouliot (and Harrison Ruopp, who did not dress for tonight's game), the entire back end is made up of free agent invites here on professional or amateur tryout contracts. But that didn't stop the group from having a phenomenal game. I was thoroughly impressed with the six men that played tonight, particularly Matt Murphy.
He's got size at 6-foot-2, 208 pounds as well as offensive ability. He's put up big numbers in juniors for a defenseman with 115 points (23G-92A) in 253 total QMJHL games. And he showed many examples of his skill today by joining rushes and deking around defenders to create space for himself. He also was the one who set up Daniel Sprong for the game-winning goal in OT. All in all, a great performance by him and his fellow D-men.
3. SPRONG SHINES
The player I was most looking forward to watching this weekend was Pens' 2015 second-round draft pick Daniel Sprong, and he did not disappoint. He was noticeable every time he was on the ice. His speed and conditioning looked excellent, as he made at least two plays to spring himself behind or through defensemen at the end of shifts. And Sprong's two biggest strengths, his NHL-ready release and his goal-scoring ability, were on display. You just knew when he got the puck on his stick during the 3-on-3 overtime that he was going to put it in the back of the net. Both Sprong and Sullivan said there were areas the 18-year-old forward, who played right wing in the game, can improve defensively, but honestly, I felt he and his linemates -- Scott Wilson and Jean-Sebastien Dea -- spent so much time in the offensive zone I didn't notice any issues. Postgame videos...Daniel Sprong
ROOKIE TOURNAMENT GUIDE AND NOTES
Our PR staff did a fantastic job of putting together bios for each prospect invited to the rookie tournament. Get to know each guy here
Also, they put together tournament notes that feature a lot of breakdowns of the roster – including how many free agents there are, how many European-born players are here, etc. – and so much more. Check them out here
As mentioned earlier, each game will be live streamed on Penguins.nhl.com
and the Penguins mobile app. Our manager of communications Jason Seidling will handle play-by-play while I will provide color commentary, and we will have intermission guests for each game (and we already have an amazing guest lined up for Friday).
Below is our setup upstairs at Budweiser Gardens, which PensTV producer Mark Cottington constructed singlehandedly. He honestly put in hours and hours of work ensuring that everything would be in order for the livestream, and it turned out perfectly thanks to his time and effort.
There will be a GoPro on Jason and I the entire game, so you'll see glimpses of us and our intermission guests throughout the broadcasts.
After practice on Thursday, I asked a few of the veteran attendees who will be competing for a roster spot in Pittsburgh what they wanted to show the coaches and management this weekend and the impressions they wanted to leave them with. Their answers are below...
Derrick Pouliot: "For me, it's to come here and show that I’m ready to play. It’s going to be competitive, guys are trying to get themselves noticed and whatnot. So show the coaches I’m ready to play, I’m in shape and ready for the season to start."
Conor Sheary: "Being back for the first week is exciting for everyone and everyone’s excited to play games again, so I think for the most part, guys just want to stick to their game and impress the coaches in the ways they can. I like to think of myself as a playmaker and I can create scoring opportunities offensively. I can also be a two-way player. I want to be a top-line forward and I think I want to prove that this weekend."
Scott Wilson: "Just getting back to where I left off last year. A lot of guys in this room had good years. I think one of the hardest things too is to be consistent, so have that year-to-year basis. I think just getting back to where you left off and just building on that this year. I think speed’s a big (thing). I’m not the biggest forward, but I think I can bring some physicality as well. I like that part of the game."
Oskar Sundqvist: "I probably just want to do the same thing as I did last year. The only thing different is that I want to show them I can everything a little bit better, that I’ve been growing as a person and a player and that I got my chance in Sweden to develop my offensive skills. It’s not big things; it’s small things that they’re going to recognize if I’m better or if I’m not better."
THE WHEELS ON THE BUS
After driving myself to the tournament last year, this time I was back on the bus with the 26 prospects, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coaches Mike Sullivan and Jay Leach and a few other staff members (and thankfully, I got my own seat. Blessed).
The prospects had medical and fitness testing at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry at 7 a.m. After that, they donned matching tracksuits and boarded the bus for what was supposed to be a 10:30 a.m. departure but ended up being slightly later.
I would like to credit Matt Murray, Derrick Pouliot, Bryan Rust, Oskar Sundqvist, Scott Wilson and Josh Archibald for being the first ones on. The Pens are big about the veteran attendees of this camp being leaders setting an example for the first-timers, and those guys were off to a strong start in that regard. Plus, they got to pick their seats, so it was a win-win for them.
Once everyone was on, we drove straight through, save for all of us getting off and going through customs at the border. And six hours and two movies later, we made it to London. We went straight to Budweiser Gardens, home of the Ontario Hockey League's Knights, for practice where the guys had a quick, up-tempo skate to get rid of their bus legs.
Here’s a few photos from the trip.
Sundqvist, Rust and Pouliot
Delicious, healthy snacks on the bus. We also had boxed lunches with wraps, veggies and more fruit.
Coach Sullivan kept reminding the boys to hydrate with lots of water and Gatorade.
We watched Lone Survivor first and needed some comic relief after that, so we put in the Internship. Hilarious. Stick tap to hockey operations assistant Erik Heasley, who chose this selection for us.
Absolutely gorgeous view of Niagara Falls from the bus as we were crossing the Peace Bridge.
Thursday, Sept. 10
ROOKIE TOURNAMENT ROSTER, SCHEDULE AND BROADCAST INFORMATION
Hello, Pens fans! I'm Michelle Crechiolo of Penguins.nhl.com and @PensInsideScoop and I'm on my way to cover the 2015 rookie tournament, which runs from Sept. 10-13 at Budweiser Gardens (home of the Knights) in London, Ontario.
The Pens have invited 26 prospects to participate, headlined by defenseman Derrick Pouliot and forwards Bryan Rust and Scott Wilson – each of whom saw NHL action last season. The full roster is here, and the schedule is below…
5 p.m. Practice
Friday, September 11, 2015
4 p.m. Game vs. Montreal
Saturday, September 12, 2015
4 p.m. Game vs. Ottawa
Sunday, September 13, 2015
7:30 p.m. Game vs. Toronto
NOTE: Each game will be live streamed on Penguins.nhl.com and the Penguins mobile app. Our manager of communications Jason Seidling will handle play-by-play while I will provide color commentary. Those are the only platforms where fans can watch and listen. They will NOT be streamed on the Penguins Radio Network this year.
We will also be providing behind-the-scenes coverage all weekend, so make sure to check out the Penguins’ social media accounts (particularly Snapchat and Periscope) over the next few days! I’ll also be keeping this blog running throughout the entire tournament with photos, interviews, 3 impressions from each game, and more (in addition to separate written features), so stay tuned.