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Penguins Wrap Up Development Camp With Saturday's Scrimmage

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins wrapped up their 2010 prospect development camp on Saturday afternoon with a three-period scrimmage at Southpointe which was open to the public.

The first period was a 10-minute stanza featuring five-on-five play. Following a brief resurfacing of the ice the two teams came back out for a 15-minute five-on-five second period, followed by a 20-minute running-clock final frame where the teams skated four-on-four.

When all was said and done Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach John Hynes led his gray squad to a 2-1 regulation victory over the black team – which was directed by WBS head coach Todd Reirden – thanks to Nick Petersen’s game-winning goal late in regulation.

The gray team was also victorious in the post-game shootout, 3-2, which combined with their regulation score gave them a 5-3 victory.

Black struck first with just 40 seconds remaining in the opening frame as forward Zach Sill found the puck behind the defense. Sill moved in on gray netminder Patrick Killeen before ripping a shot through the five-hole to make it 1-0 in favor of the black team.

Following the zamboni break, neither team scored during the middle period before the gray team netted two tallies in the third period to secure the come-from-behind victory.

It didn’t take long for the gray team to even the score as forward Joey Haddad, who split last season with WBS of the American Hockey League (AHL) and Wheeling of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), took a drop pass in the right circle from rookie blueliner Joe Rogalski before roofing a shot past the glove of black goaltender Brad Thiessen.

It looked like the contest was heading to overtime when 2009 first-round draft pick Simon Despres found the puck on his blade in the slot with just over a minute left in the third period. Despres’ rocket of a snap shot went off the crossbar, but Petersen was Johnny on the spot to tap home the rebound to give the gray a 2-1 victory.

In the post-game shootout, the gray team defeated the black, 3-2, on goals from Tom Kuehnhackl, Haddad and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who fired home the deciding goal through the five-hole of Thiessen. Paul Thompson and Keven Veilleux tallied for the black team against Killeen.

Below are some highlights and observations from Saturday afternoon’s scrimmage:

> Following the offseason signings of defensemen Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek the Penguins have a wealth of depth along the backline at the NHL level. After watching some of the young blueliners at camp this week, it’s safe to say that depth extends deep into the system.

Twenty-two-year-old Brian Strait, who will be entering his second professional season following a solid rookie campaign at WBS, looked really good suiting up for the black team. Strait, a product of the United States National Development Program, was solid all over the ice standing up guys during one-on-ones, keeping the puck in along the wall and joining the rush offensively. Strait has the look of the prototypical defensive defenseman who can thrive in the new NHL.

Providence defender Alex Velischek, 19, also stood out defensively by looking well beyond his years. Velischek, who has a nice thick build and can really move the puck, was effective in his own zone, moved the puck very well on regroups and breakouts and showed off a sneaky shot in the offensive zone.

> Another defenseman who continues to improve is Despres. Throughout camp Despres has talked about how hard he has worked at improving his shot, and he put those improvements on display for the crowd on Saturday.

Despres finished the game with three shots in addition to that hit crossbar which resulted in the game-winning goal for his team. His most impressive play came in the second period when he took the puck at the left point, walked his way towards the middle – opening a shot for himself – before firing a hard wrist shot towards Thiessen’s glove, which the netminder had trouble with due to the velocity. It was a play we have seen on many occasions the past five years from former Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar.

> Speaking of first-round draft picks, this year’s top selection, Beau Bennett, also found a way to stand out despite not factoring into the scoring summary.

Bennett, 18, not only showed off some good stickhandling skills, but he also proved to be a nifty playmaker throughout the session. Bennett’s best play came as time was running out in the first period as he led a two-on-two into the zone. The Gardena, California native kept separation from the defender while at the same time sending a saucer pass over the stick of the other defenseman which landed right on the blade of Haddad, who was stoned by Thiessen.

> If you are looking for a wild card among the group of defensemen who figure to fight for the last two spots in Pittsburgh, don’t count out second-year pro Robert Bortuzzo. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound rearguard stood out at rookie camp last year, leading to an impressive rookie campaign for the physical blueliner. On Saturday he continued his solid defensive play, while also showing that he is not afraid to jump into the rush.

> It’s going to be good to see how forwards Eric Tangradi and Dustin Jeffrey fare at the NHL camp in September as they fight for the one or two openings which possibly exist up front. Although neither player scored on Saturday, both did what they needed to do – which was stand out above the younger players – while also backchecking hard and being tough to knock off the puck. Both players look ready to grab an opening.

> Among the things I look forward to watching over the next few months and through the next couple of years is the development of Veilleux and Ben Hanowski. As Saturday wore on, Veilleux kept finding a knack for creating shots and finding those seams with his massive 6-foot-5 frame, suggesting the ability to grow into a power-forward role. Hanowski, who is preparing for his sophomore season at St. Cloud State, looks to have a very quick release and was able to get off a couple of hard, quick shots in traffic. He has the look of a potential second-line forward.

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