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Penguins Aim to Add Talent in NHL Draft

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
When the 2009 NHL Entry Draft kicks off Friday afternoon in Montreal, the Penguins will be doing a lot of waiting. By virtue of winning the Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh will be drafting in the No. 30 spot of the first round. Not that the team minds.

“That’s a reflection of what our team accomplished this year,” assistant general manager Jason Botterill said. “We’re all very, very excited about winning the Stanley Cup.”

The Penguins’ ability to draft talented players led to their surging success and the team’s approach to this season’s draft isn’t much different from prior years.

“It has to be best player available,” Botterill said. “You’re drafting 18-year-old kids and you may say you have a need for defensemen. But by the time the kid becomes a National Hockey League player, usually three to five years down the road, through free agency and trades that need for defensemen may change.”

In recent years the Penguins have parted with high-end draft picks in trades to build that Stanley Cup championship team. This year, however, the team opted to hang on to its top-round picks to rebuild the depth pool of talent in the amateur and minor league system.

“We didn’t want to get into a situation where we didn’t have those draft picks, and not giving our amateur (scouting) staff an opportunity to restock our franchise,” Botterill said.

Depth players are vital to any franchise, but especially so with the implementation of the salary cap. With higher profile players carrying a heavy price tag, teams must utilize the draft to build the remaining pieces of their squads. 

In the salary cap world, you have to have young players coming up through your system. - Jason Botterill
“In the salary cap world, you have to have young players coming up through your system,” Botterill said. “You can’t go out on the open market and add players to your team. Financially it’s not feasible at all. You see it with our team this year with players like Tyler Kennedy and Maxime Talbot coming up through the system. These are players that play big roles on our team and you have them at a price that’s more realistic than what they would get on the open market.”

The players selected in the first round usually get most of the recognition – such as Marc-Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. But the players selected in the later rounds play a key role in any team’s success.

Integral players from the Penguins’ championship roster were selected in the later rounds, such as defensemen Rob Scuderi (5th), Kris Letang (3rd) and Alex Goligoski (2nd) and forwards Tyler Kennedy (4th) and Maxime Talbot (8th).

“There is always a focus on the first round and our staff has done a great job of picking the right player in the first round,” Botterill said. “They’ve also done a great job of picking some players deep in the draft like Kris Letang, Tyler Kennedy and Max Talbot. Finding these players, that’s what we need to continue to have a team that is vying for a Stanley Cup year in and year out.”

The Penguins were stricken with injuries during the 2008-09 season and had to tap into their farm system heavily at times. The young players ability to step in and play for the team is a testament to the Penguins’ ability to draft and develop good talent.

“Our amateur scouts work hard watching thousands of games throughout the year, pinpointing players and identifying key players,” Botterill said. “After they identify them, it becomes important to develop these players. We brought on Tom Fitzgerald as director of player development. He’s done an unbelievable job in that role. There needs to be a person in that role dedicated to helping our prospects develop from the draft until they get into our organization. Making that step to the National Hockey League is a huge step that requires a lot of work. We have good coaches who will put the time in to help these guys achieve their goals of being National Hockey League players.”

But the first step for any young professional is getting drafted.

“Our amateur staff has worked really hard (preparing),” Botterill said. “Friday and Saturday is their day to shine.”

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