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Rookie Tournament: Evaluating the Pens D

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

If there’s a position that Penguins fans should be especially excited about when it comes to depth, it’s defense. The Penguins have stocked a number of high-end, blue chip defensive prospects through the draft and trades over the last few years – many of whom are potential impact blueliners at the NHL level – and it showed at the 2013 rookie tournament.

Seven of the defensemen that played for Pittsburgh in London are draft picks of the team, with the eighth, Brian Dumoulin (originally drafted by Carolina in the second round, 51st overall in 2009), being acquired via trade last June. Four were selected by the Penguins in the first two rounds of the draft: first-rounders Derrick Pouliot (2012, 8th overall) and Olli Maatta (2012, 22nd overall) and second-rounders Scott Harrington (2011, 54th overall) and Philip Samuelsson (2009, 61st overall).

We asked Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach Alain Nasreddine, who works primarily with the defensemen, to give us his thoughts on each of the eight defensemen and how they played in their games this past week.

Played Saturday vs. Toronto and Sunday vs. Chicago. Wore the “C” in both of those games for Pittsburgh. Paired with Clark Seymour in both games.

Nasreddine: “I think anyone’s that watched the two games (could see Brian Dumoulin was) obviously the best player on the ice, especially last night. Today he had another great showing. He’s past us, to be honest. That’s how good he was. Hopefully he has the same kind of success in Pittsburgh. But I thought he was really good, his overall game. I thought he was our best D.”

Played in Pittsburgh’s first two games on Thursday vs. Ottawa and Saturday vs. Toronto. Paired with Olli Maatta, his teammate for the last two seasons with the London Knights, in both games. Harrington got an assist in the first game and a goal in the second, both recorded off shots from the point on the PP.

Nasreddine: “’Harry,’ that’s another kid that left a really good impression. You can see he can play solid in all three zones, so it makes him a very valuable defenseman. I thought he was solid, you could see he was more comfortable the second game that he played. At the offensive blue line, he’s smart with the puck. In the defensive zone, he’s big and strong. So I thought he had two good games, especially the second one. He scored the goal (in the first game)…that’s the thing with him. He gets his shot through in the offensive zone. He’s not the most skilled defenseman, but those little details like that where he gets it through, it’s a pretty heavy shot and he does a good job. He did a good job.”

Played in Pittsburgh’s first two games on Thursday vs. Ottawa and Saturday vs. Toronto. Paired with Scott Harrington, his teammate for the last two seasons with the London Knights, in both games.

Nasreddine: “Olli, that’s another guy we have high expectations for. It’s nice to see him in a tournament like this. I thought the first game he tried to do a little too much and got in trouble a few times, but he found his composure the second game and he was similar to Harry. He was better. But that’s another kid too where he does everything well. So it’s going to be interesting to see him at main camp. He’s got an NHL body, he’s got the hockey sense, really good hockey sense. So he’s good. He’s going to be good. I think he’s going to force the management’s hand as far as pushing for a spot."

Was one of just two defenseman to play in all three games for Pittsburgh. Paired with Philip Samuelsson in the first and third games; skated with Reid McNeill in the second.

Nasreddine: “He played all three games and I think that was good for him. I thought he really struggled the first game. His puck decisions and his play with the puck should normally be one of his strengths. But he was a little soft, a little lackadaisical at times. So I think it was good for him to get the rhythm and I thought (Sunday) was his best game. But you see he’s a smooth skater and you saw that in the tournament. Under pressure he has that poise, you can see he’s comfortable in the offensive zone. For a skilled guy like him, he’s got the strength in the D zone. When he decides to really battle and compete, he wins his battles. So for him, it’s just I think consistency he’s lacking from game to game and shift to shift. At least he improved, so he’ll be interesting to see at camp.”

Played Thursday vs. Ottawa and Sunday vs. Chicago. Wore the “C” for Pittsburgh on Thursday and was an alternate captain on Sunday. Paired with Derrick Pouliot in both games.

Nasreddine: “With ‘Sammy,’ he’s one of our older guys. But the thing people have to know with Sammy is he’s a playbook-type player as far as systems. He knows the systems perfect, he knows how to play the systems, he’s a detail guy. So in a tournament like this, to his defense – and not that he was poor or bad – but for him he shines in an environment where there’s structure and details, which is not the case in a tournament like this. But you saw the games he played in, especially (Sunday), I decided to put him more on the penalty kill and that’s his biggest strength. You saw it here and in tonight’s game. Sammy just has to keep working on his footwork and speed and strength because the hockey IQ is there for sure.”

Played Saturday vs. Toronto and Sunday vs. Chicago. Was paired with Derrick Pouliot on Saturday and Nick D’Agostino on Sunday.

Nasreddine: “I would have liked to see more out of Reid. I think he struggled. I don’t think he had a really good showing. So I’ll try to get together with him before the main camp starts and see where he’s at. But you know, quality guys and quality players like that, they know when they struggle and don’t do well. There’s no need to beat around. He just didn’t have two good games. So we’ll get together with him and see where he’s at. I know for a fact he’s got better because last year in the playoffs he was a huge player for us. He was very important for us and played very well, so I know he’s got better. So for him, it’s just turn the page and focus on the main camp.”

Was one of just two defenseman to play in all three games for Pittsburgh. Paired with Nick D’Agostino in the first game and Brian Dumoulin in the last two.

Nasreddine: “The thing with ‘Clarkie’ is that he’s young. Yeah, he made some mistakes with the puck. But what I saw and I really like was his grit that he showed, especially at the net front. I didn’t know. I know he was with us last year; he never got to play but I heard (about his grit) and his fight was impressive. Obviously if he wants to play he’s going to have to bring that. His grit stood out to me.”

Played Thursday vs. Ottawa and Sunday vs. Chicago. Paired with Clark Seymour against the Senators and with Reid McNeill against the Blackhawks.

Nasreddine: “I think he struggled his first game. I thought he was better tonight, but he’s a guy that’s 23 and in a tournament like this, he should stand out a little more and be one of our top-end players on D and I don’t think he did that. We’ll see what main camp brings for him. But for those guys, it’s always a learning process. Especially when you haven’t played all summer. You’re not looking to make excuses, but I know from what I heard from our scouts is that D’Agostino is a better player than that.”

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