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Development Camp Preview: "Best Collection of Prospects We've Had"

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins have accumulated a wealth of exciting young talent in the developmental pipeline, especially recently. Let's take a quick look.

Entering the 2012 NHL Draft, they already had previous first-round picks Simon Despres, Beau Bennett and Joe Morrow – along with 2011 second-round pick Scott Harrington, who had an absolutely fantastic 2011-12 season – in the system.

2012 first-round pick Derrick Pouliot is one of 34 players in town this week for development camp. (Getty Images)

The Penguins then came away from the draft with nine total selections – including two first-round picks in Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta – and two acquisitions via trade in Brian Dumoulin (from Carolina as part of the Jordan Staal trade) and Harrison Ruopp (from Phoenix as part of the Zbynek Michalek trade).

And what's completely awesome is that this week, those players headline the group of 34 prospects – a mixture of college, junior and professional athletes – that will be in Pittsburgh for the organization’s yearly development camp (click here for the full roster).

“This is the best collection of prospects at camp we’ve had,” said assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald. “Without a doubt.”

For Fitzgerald and the rest of the Penguins staff that will be running the camp, it all begins with those all-important first impressions. And those begin at the crack of dawn (OK, maybe that’s exaggerating a little bit) on Tuesday morning, when the players gather at CONSOL Energy Center for medical and fitness testing at 7:30 a.m. sharp.

“Expectation-wise, you want them all to come in good shape,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s the most important thing, seeing who’s working. It’s a barometer of where they’re at with their conditioning – who might need a kick in the behind and who you pat on the back. It’s an opportunity for all these kids to set a first impression. You only get one chance at that, and this is it for all these kids.”

From there, it’s all about fulfilling certain roles as the players are schooled in what it means to be a Pittsburgh Penguin.

The camp, which runs through Saturday, will be run by Fitzgerald, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes, WBS assistant coach Alain Nasreddine, Penguins goaltending coach Gilles Meloche, Penguins player development coach Bill Guerin, Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar and WBS strength and conditioning coach Joe Lorincz.

The next few days will be crammed with on-ice practices, off-ice workouts, a Saturday scrimmage and team-bonding experiences like bowling, paintball and group dinners. In addition, they’ll be receiving education in NHL security, sports psychology and will even be getting a nutritional tour at Giant Eagle to give them options outside of going to the nearest fast food restaurant when they no longer live with mom and dad or their billet families.

For the first-time attendees, the Penguins just want to give them an understanding of what it’s like to be a part of the organization. Think of it as a week of hockey school.

“On the ice, it’s not about execution and scoring goals,” Fitzgerald explained. “It’s about us educating them and giving them an understanding of what it’s like to be a Pittsburgh Penguin. This is how we get prepared for practice. This is the system we’re going to use, this is how we’re going to incorporate it into practice. Then we go out and execute.

“It’s not like this is how you should play when you go back system-wise. It’s all about the educating part. This is what you’re taking home and learning. You can apply it to wherever you go back to.”

For those players who have been to camp before – especially the ones who have spent time in WBS or have played NHL games, like Despres – the expectation is that they step into leadership roles. They don’t necessarily have to be vocal, but they must lead by example.

“That’s a big reason why we bring the pros, to help mentor the new prospects that come through here.” Fitzgerald said. “That’s the next step for them. The thing you watch for them is are they stepping up to the front of the line? Are they leaping? Because that’s what you want from them.”

Overall, it’s a lot of information to take in. But as Fitzgerald said, it’s manageable information. And it’s truly all for these players’ benefits, to help them understand how to conduct themselves as professionals in every sense of the word.

“We try to create an understanding of what it’s like to be a Pittsburgh Penguin, not only on the ice, but off the ice,” Fitzgerald said. “Because the reality is that they now represent the city of Pittsburgh. They’re going to be judged on their actions. We just try to create that environment.”

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