(RELATED STORY: Penguins add Sneep, Strait, Johnson and Seppanen)
There was much uncertainty heading into the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, but the Penguins are certain of one thing – it was a success for the organization.
Penguins second-overall choice Jordan Staal grabbed a lot of headlines and deservedly so, but Penguins head scout Greg Malone is excited with all the franchise’s selections – Carl Sneep, Brian Strait, Chad Johnson and Timo Seppanen.
“Right now, I am very, very pleased with it,” he said. “The players we got, we’re very excited about of them. We didn’t have many picks, but we’re very happy with what happened.”
Sneep was taken in the second round, 32nd overall. The 6-4, 210-pounder is an anchor on the blueline.
“I am a big, strong defenseman who skates really well and moves around, good playmaking and has a good shot,” he said. “I have been developing my whole life, especially recently. At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t expected to go this high. I keep passing guys up and keep improving.”
It was Sneep’s rapid ascent up the rankings that has Malone so thrilled about the prospect. He was 33rd in Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings, but moved up to 26 in the final rankings.
“His hockey ability really came. This year, he made a big step when he went to play in Lincoln of the U.S. junior league,” Malone said. “He was in there and all of a sudden he took his game to the next level. Most of the guys who go in there don’t get much power-play time, but he’s in there and then he’s playing on the power play. He can shoot the puck very well and move the puck.”
Sneep is thrilled to join the Penguins.
“It was great news,” he said. “I am very excited.”
Sneep has had a special connection to the Penguins his entire hockey career. Growing up in Minnesota, Sneep attends Penguins scout Chuck Grillo’s hockey camp, which is near his high school (Brainerd) every summer.
“He’s been great mentor of mine,” Sneep said of Grillo. “As long as I have been playing hockey, I have been going to his camp. It’s how I got to where I am today.”
It’s also where Malone became familiar with Sneep.
“I have known him since he was 12 years old. This kid spends 12 weeks a year at the camp. He’s a bull out there,” Malone said. “He’s a great athlete, too. He will spend all day at the camp and then, at night, he will go pitch a baseball game.”
Indeed. Sneep was a standout pitcher/first baseman at Brainerd. And, he was a tight end, linebacker and kicker for the Warriors’ football team as well.
In 26 games for Brainerd, Sneep had 24 goals, 23 assists and 37 points. In 13 games with Lincoln of the USHL, Sneep had one goal, three assists and nine penalty minutes for the Stars.
He is headed to Boston College on a hockey scholarship this fall.
“Hopefully, [I will be ready for the NHL in] three or four years, we’ll see,” he said. “I am excited to go out to Boston and hopefully I keep getting better and I will make it [to the NHL].”
Brian Strait is more than just a solid defenseman. The 6-foot, 200-pounder also brings tremendous leadership to the table. He served as the captain for the U.S. National Developmental Under-18 team, which featured first-overall pick Erik Johnson.
“We really like his leadership skills,” Malone said.
Strait, who was taken by the Penguins in the third round (65th overall), was actually ranked higher than Sneep. Strait began the year at 27, but finished No. 22 in the Central Scouting rankings.
“We were happy he was still available,” Malone said. “He’s a defensive defenseman. We classify him as a warrior.”
Strait finished with two goals, 11 assists and 68 penalty minutes in 47 games for the U.S. Under-18 team this year.
Strait, who was born in Boston, will attend Boston University on a hockey scholarship in the fall.
Chad Johnson was Central Scouting’s 21st-rated North American goaltender available. The Penguins selected him in the fifth round (125th overall). Johnson attends the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he will be a sophomore this fall. In his freshman campaign with the Nanooks, he went 4-4-3 in 11 games with a 2.66 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage.
Prior to that, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound netminder shined in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Brooks Bandits. In the 2004-05 regular season, he played in 43 games and posted a 25-16-2 record with a 2.61 GAA. His .923 save percentage was the fifth-lowest in AJHL history.
“He is a big kid who covers a lot of net,” Malone said. “He has good movement, too. [Penguins scout and former goaltender] Gilles [Meloche] saw him play a couple games and was raving about him. We really think we have a good player in him.”
The Penguins concluded the draft with the selection of Finnish defenseman Timo Seppanen in the sixth round (185th overall).
In 30 games with IFK Helsinki’s junior team, the 6-1, 209-pounder had seven goals, 11 assists and 65 penalty minutes. In seven games for Finland at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver, he had two goals and two assists.
Malone was happy to see Seppanen, who was Central Scouting’s 13th-rated European skater, still available so late in the draft.
“We really liked the way he played in Vancouver,” Malone said. “He is a skilled defenseman who can move the puck and skates very well. He’ll be playing on the big team in IFK next tear and will probably be on Finland’s World Junior team also. We like that.”