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Pens' courting of prospects pays off

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

For all of the players that hear their name called at the NHL Draft, there are still so many who don't - and are left figuring out the next step in their career.

For Jordy Bellerive, it was a devastating day for him and his family. But he didn't dwell on the disappointment for long. Instead, he met with his agents to see what the next step was, and that was trying to figure out which organization he could attend development camp with. Bellerive and his agents decided on Pittsburgh, and from there, he got an invitation to the Prospects Challenge.

After an incredible performance in Buffalo - Bellerive finished with four goals and seven points in three games - the 18-year-old forward earned an invite to training camp. And on Saturday, Bellerive inked a three-year entry-level contract with the Penguins, with his parents here to watch his dream that had been put on hold at the draft finally come to fruition.

"Coincidentally, my parents were coming in the day before I found out that I was signing, so they got to be here for that," he said. "So that was pretty special. It was good to share that with them. From going undrafted to being signed in three months, it was a crazy year for me and my family and all my friends and everything. So I'm excited. Couldn't have asked for a better ending."

Goaltender Alex D'Orio was in a similar situation, as he also didn't hear his name called at the United Center back in June and got an invite to Penguins development camp earlier this summer.

D'Orio then got an opportunity to be Pittsburgh's starting netminder at the Prospects Challenge, and he made the most of it. The 18-year-old, who just finished his rookie season with Saint John of the QMJHL, backstopped the Penguins to the best record that weekend - going 2-0-1 and stopping 74 of the 82 shots he faced in three appearances.

And instead of going back into the pool of eligibility for next year's draft, D'Orio went on to sign a three-year entry-level contract of his own on Wednesday.

"I love the organization, I love the place," he said. "I know that (goaltending) coach (Mike) Buckley is really good, so he's going to help me a lot to grow."

Both D'Orio and Bellerive cited the Penguins' reputation for development as a big reason for choosing to sign with the organization.

"I think it's pretty obvious, their track record with developing young players and bringing guys in on smaller deals - like (Conor Sheary) and (Jake) Guentzel and guys like that - who come in and then end up being really great players for the team," Bellerive said. "Myself being an undrafted guy, coming in on a smaller deal or whatever it takes, this will be a great place for me to come in and hopefully make a difference one day. That's why I chose here."

And the Penguins are thrilled that both players chose to sign with them. When they invite free agents to development camp and the Prospects Challenge, it's not just the players who are trying to make an impression. The Penguins are trying to sell their program on them as well.

"That's one of the important things about development camp and the rookie tournament, is that you get to know these players and get to see what they're all about," Pens assistant general manager Bill Guerin said. "Both of these kids, we felt took what they learned at development camp and applied it to the rest of their summer. When they showed up at the rookie tournament, there was a big change in their approach to their summer training, their approach to the game, all that stuff. From training to diet, they've applied what they've learned from our staff and that's a good sign. Then they go out and they perform."

Both players will return to their junior teams at some point in the near future. Bellerive will be going back to Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League, where he'll be an alternate captain for the team. D'Orio will be going back to the Sea Dogs, where he'll take on a much bigger role for the team as their starting netminder this season.

And with them, they'll take their experience from these last few months to continue improving on their path to hopefully contribute with Pittsburgh at some point down the line.

"The speed of the game, the speed of the shot, quickness," D'Orio said. "All that stuff back in junior, it's quick, but not to that level. To play games against top prospects and against the big players here, it'll help me a lot."

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