Not only will it be memorable for the excitement that comes with hosting one of the NHL’s marquee events and the thrill that accompanies a blockbuster trade like the one Penguins general manager Ray Shero pulled off in the first round, but it will be one to remember because of Pittsburgh’s absolutely stellar performance at the draft table.
|Penguins GM Ray Shero and his staff earned an A+ grade from The Hockey News for their performance at the 2012 NHL Draft. (Getty Images) |
Led by Shero’s aggressive trade that brought Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the No. 8-overall pick to Pittsburgh, the Penguins staff proceeded to add two more blue-chip defense prospects to that already stacked position by taking Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta (22nd overall) in the first round.
Pittsburgh then chose wisely on the second day of the draft, adding four forwards (Theodor Blueger, Oskar Sundqvist, Matia Marcantuoni and Anton Zlobin) that have been called “steals” and “sleepers” by many in the hockey world – along with a pair of goaltenders (Matthew Murray and Sean Maguire) and another defenseman (Clark Seymour).
The team’s performance earned an A+ grade from The Hockey News, with the publication writing that the Penguins “bolstered already impressive D ranks; Zlobin, Marcantuoni steals.”
The Hockey News wasn’t the only publication to give the Penguins high marks for their 2012 draft class, as Red Line Report, a leading independent scouting review, listed Pittsburgh as one of its top performers at the podium and ranked them No. 6 out of 30 NHL clubs.
Kyle Woodlief, a former NHL scout with the Nashville Predators who is now Chief Scout/Publisher of the Red Line Report and a contributor to USA Today, had this to say about Pittsburgh’s draft class:
“There are the two kids at the top end (Pouliot and Maatta), who are pretty much bets to play at the NHL level. Later on in the draft, there’s some nice little gambles and risks that were taken to get some nice sleepers. You’ve got a variety of guys with Blueger, Zlobin, Sundqvist and even Marcantuoni. You’ve got four guys there who all bring different things to the table. At least two of them could be late bloomers with Zlobin and Sundqvist. Marcantuoni is a guy who, if he had been healthy, certainly would have went a lot higher.”
Here’s a deeper look at the highlights of Pittsburgh’s 2012 NHL Draft performance, with commentary from Woodlief.
This draft took shape with (Pittsburgh’s) aggressive tradeup in the (Jordan) Staal deal to get one of the top two puck-moving defenders in the draft, Derrick Pouliot, to help take some of the load off Kris Letang. Then the Pens were stunned by their good fortune to see Olli Maatta still on the board at No. 22. The future of their blue line now looks secure. –Red Line Report, July 2012
With the Penguins being a perennial Stanley Cup contender and finishing at or near the top of the standings for several years, they’ve been drafting low in the first round for some time now.
They appeared to be destined to that fate again this year, as the Penguins entered this year’s draft with the 22nd-overall pick. But minutes after Minnesota made the seventh-overall selection, Shero orchestrated a blockbuster trade with Carolina to procure the Hurricanes’ No. 8 pick as well – giving the Penguins a top-10 selection for the first time in six years (and two first-round picks for just the second time in franchise history).
And the Penguins chose soundly with those two first-round picks. Woodlief couldn’t say enough about Pittsburgh landing a pair of talents like Pouliot and Maatta in the first round.
The Penguins already have a wealth of blue chip defensive prospects in Simon Despres, Joe Morrow, Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin, to name a few. But Woodlief believes that Pouliot and Maatta are now two of the best.
“Those two kids at the top end are pretty much bets to play at the NHL level,” Woodlief said. “I don’t think I would rate any of (Pittsburgh’s defense prospects) as highly as I would rate either of these two kids.”
Woodlief is especially enamored with Pittsburgh’s first choice in Pouliot, an offensively gifted, puck-moving defenseman who’s a strong skater and will be instrumental on the power play.
“There are very few kids in the draft that had better hockey sense and vision than Pouliot,” Woodlief said, who compared the Portland Winterhawks defenseman to current Penguins blueliner Kris Letang.
Landing a player with Pouliot’s skill set in the first round would have been enough for most NHL clubs. But the Penguins weren’t done there.
With their original first-round pick, Pittsburgh snagged a top-10 talent that was somehow still available at the No. 22 slot in defenseman Olli Maatta of the London Knights.
Woodlief believes Maatta’s puck-moving skills are exemplary like Pouliot’s – and he especially praised the Finnish blueliner’s decision-making in his own zone.
“Maatta makes better decisions in the defensive end,” Woodlief said. “He’s going to be more of a shutdown type of guy who just plays a very solid, steady, consistent game. He doesn’t make any mistakes. He’s going to play like a veteran by the time he’s 21.”
GAMBLES + RISKS = STEALS
One of the real steals of the draft came on Pittsburgh’s last pick of the day as they gobbled up soft-handed sniper Anton Zlobin, who could fill the net working alongside any of the Pens’ great centres. … Taking a calculated gamble on oft-injured Matia Marcantuoni’s world-class speed and skill is a nice move, too. –Red Line Report, July 2012
The first round yielded two players for Pittsburgh that Woodlief believes are sure bets to play in the NHL.
But later in the draft, the Penguins also took some gambles and risks that Woodlief believes will absolutely pay off.
Consider this: a player who scored a team-leading 40 goals and 76 points during the 2011-12 regular season with Shawinigan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, then proceeded to score nine points (5G-4A) in six games during the 2012 Memorial Cup – including the clinching overtime goal for the Cataractes to help them earn their first Memorial Cup Championship.
He certainly sounds like a promising prospect with plenty of skill. But Anton Zlobin was a player that no one was taking a chance on as the 2012 NHL Draft went on, until the Penguins grabbed the Russian forward in the sixth round (173rd overall).
“Zlobin is a guy who is really dangerous with the puck on his stick,” Woodlief said. “He’s a real finisher. Got an excellent shot with a terrific release around the slot. He’s a guy who has a feel and a knack for getting himself to open ice and scoring territory. Once he gets there, if he’s got a center who can get him the puck, he’ll bury it.”
Making the transition to the North American style of play and culture is always a process for European born-and-trained players like Zlobin. It certainly was an adjustment for Zlobin, but Woodlief believes that he is finally comfortable and will continue to thrive in his situation.
“He was aware coming into his second season what was going to be expected of him and what he was going to have to do in order to get good scoring chances,” Woodlief said. “He was willing to go to the dirty areas this year. It’s not like he improved his shot or his release. He already had that. This year he was more willing to take hits to get scoring chances, was more willing to go play in traffic.”
The Penguins took another risk by selecting Matia Marcantuoni in the fourth round (92nd overall), as the Kitchener Rangers forward was limited to 66 games the past two seasons due to injury.
But Marcantuoni’s got a natural talent that any player would love to have, and it’s one of the reasons the Penguins – and Woodlief – like him so much.
“He’s got world-class speed,” Woodlief said. “He’s one of the best pure skaters in last year’s draft. If he had played all season healthy for Kitchener last year, he’s a guy who certainly could have gone in the top 60 and maybe even the top 50.”
Marcantuoni’s compete level and intensity also made him attractive to the Penguins.
“He’s fast and he plays hard,” said assistant director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton at the draft. “Sometimes he’s had a few injuries because he plays so hard, but he’s got speed to burn and a high intensity level.“
Teddy Blueger is a creative playmaker with great vision, and third-rounder Oskar Sundqvist is our Swedish scout’s choice as the most intriguing sleeper in the draft. –Red Line Report, July 2012
The term ‘sleeper’ is one that’s tossed around a lot on draft day in all sports. It’s where a player who is chosen in a later round has the potential to exceed the expectations of their draft position.
Woodlief said that this June, the Penguins got two of those in Theodor “Teddy” Blueger (second round, 52nd overall) and Oskar Sundqvist (third round, 81st overall).
“I really liked Teddy Blueger. He’s a real sleeper,” Woodlief said of the Latvian native and Shattuck-St. Mary’s product. “He’s a guy who is not overly big, but really intelligent and smart with the puck. He’s a guy who makes his other linemates better.”
Blueger’s hockey sense and vision is something that can’t be taught, and he’ll continue to hone and develop those this fall – along with his overall strength and conditioning – at Minnesota State University.
Taking Blueger in the second round was a solid move by the Penguins, as was drafting Sundqvist in the third.
While Sexton said he and the Penguins staff couldn’t believe Sundqvist was still available that late in the draft, Woodlief said understanding the upside of a player like that takes due diligence.
“He’s a guy who was not really on the radar for much of the season,” he explained, adding, “things really clicked for him starting around February, March and into the playoffs. He had a really strong run going into the playoffs.”