Here's a bunch of notes and quotes from the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York, where the Pens added five new players into the organization during the 2016 NHL Draft.
* The Pens were absolutely thrilled to select goaltender Filip Gustavsson with their first pick of the draft in the second round, and he was absolutely thrilled they chose him.
“Sitting there and waiting to get drafted and to get the Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s just awesome,” Gustavsson said.
Right after his name was called and he hugged his parents, brother and girlfriend, Gustavsson admitted that “thousands of things” were going through his head.
“You just feel relief there, and it was just awesome,” he said.
While Gustavsson said he didn’t necessarily know Pittsburgh was interested in him, the young netminder didn’t have any reason to think they weren’t.
“I had a great meeting with them at the combine,” he said. “I came in the room and they were nice men, had pretty easy questions. I just had a good feeling afterwards.”
Gustavsson, who likes watching Washington’s Braden Holtby and Montreal’s Carey Price, didn’t follow any one NHL team growing up in Sweden since games air in the middle of the night over there. However, he did watch all of the Stanley Cup Final and admired the work his fellow goaltender did between the pipes for Pittsburgh.
“Every goalie, they say they need to be around 30 and older,” Gustavsson said. “Then (Matt) Murray stepped up and showed them that’s not impossible. It’s good.”
* Head European scout Patrik Allvin said Pens goalie development coach Mike Buckley pushed for the team to draft Gustavsson, he felt that highly about him.
“That was great,” smiled Allvin.
Allvin believes that Gustavsson, currently with Lulea of the Swedish League, is in a strong position where he is right now.
“He’s a No. 2 going into the season but I could see him getting 40 percent of the job duties there and I think that’s a great spot,” Allvin said. “He’s going to be on the Swedish World Junior team too. So I think he’s in a good position. There’s no rush to get him over.”
* Speaking of international play, Gustavsson and third-round pick Connor Hall were the only two of the newest Pens in attendance at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo. They know each other from playing against each other at the World Under-18 Championship, and the defenseman raved about the goaltender.
“He was really good,” Hall smiled.
* While Hall is from Kitchener, Ontario – where he plays major junior for his hometown Rangers – he actually grew up a big fan of Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.
“I enjoyed watching them through the whole playoffs and really cheered them on,” said Hall, who attended a couple of games at Mellon Arena when he was young. “Overall, just love the city of Pittsburgh and really excited to join the Penguins organization.”
It helps that his current Ontario Hockey League head coach is Jay McKee, who spent his final NHL season in Pittsburgh back in 2009-10.
“He played for the Penguins a while back. He had a fun time there,” Hall smiled.
* Being such a fan of the team, it was surreal for Hall to hear his name called by the Pens and put on the brand-new Pittsburgh Gold jersey. He joked that his new sweater would fit right into the décor of his room at home.
“It’s an unbelievable experience,” he said. “Everyone always says that you never forget these moments and to be drafted by the Stanley Cup champions, it’s really a dream come true.”
It’s even sweeter after the season that he had, where Hall played just three games in the first half because of a 10-game suspension and a broken jaw sustained in a fight.
“At the start of the year I didn’t expect this day would come at all,” he admitted. “Even just to get back in the lineup and be able to play top minutes for the Rangers in the second half, it really helped me a lot. Just being able to get drafted, it’s really unreal.”
* New Pens prospects Kasper Bjorkqvist and Niclas Almari go back. Way back.
Not only did they play together for parts of the last three seasons in their native Finland, including the beginning of this year for Blues Jr. before Bjorkqvist was traded to Jokerit – they were buddies even before that.
“They know each other really well,” Allvin said. “They grew up in the same suburb of Helsinki. They’re good friends.”
They won’t be the only pair of prospects in the system who were teammates before coming to Pittsburgh.
Joseph Masonius, taken in the sixth round (151st overall) by Pittsburgh, joined Ryan Segalla – taken in the fourth round (112th overall) in 2014 – this past season at the University of Connecticut.
Masonius attended the Pens’ prospect development camp last year before joining the Huskies this fall, where he shined in his freshman year as a member of UConn’s blue line with Segalla, a junior.
* When talking to Allvin, Bjorkqvist compared his game to that of Toronto’s Leo Komarov – meaning he certainly has an agitating aspect to his game.
“That’s what he said,” Allvin laughed. “But he’s a super-competitive player. We view him as more of a third-line player who comes to work every day and has really, really good leadership skills.”
Bjorkqvist was an assistant captain of his junior team in Finland this past year, and Allvin is looking forward to seeing how he does when he joins the NCAA ranks this fall at Providence College of Hockey East.
“He’s a great character player. I think he will go to college there and he will be a very interesting player,” Allvin said.
Meanwhile, Almari will be joining HPK of the Finnish Elite League next season – and yes, I thought Allvin had said “HBK” at first. Which would have been tremendous.
* There was certainly a European flavor to the Pens’ draft class this year, as three of the six picks were from Sweden and Finland. But Allvin doesn’t like to look at it as his guys being picked.
“It’s a group effort,” Allvin said. “It’s not about the European guys or North American guys. We do this for the Pittsburgh Penguins and to be a competitive team long-term.”
However, Sexton wouldn’t let Allvin and his two European scouts, Tommy Westlund and Petri Pakasllahti, off that easily.
“We have tremendous confidence in our European scouts and the job that they do,” Sexton said. “I think that over time, our fans in Pittsburgh are going to see the quality job that our European guys have done because those European players are very, very talented young players.”THIS N’AT
Sexton, on why the goalies went so late in general (the Pens took the first one with Gustavsson at No. 55): “The way goalies typically go is everyone’s afraid to take one early, then as soon as the first one goes it’s kind of like a run. It’s almost like a feeding frenzy at the supermarket.”
Gustavsson, on how he would describe his goaltending style: “I’m a pretty modern goalie. I play a more blocking style, close to the net and then I try to be more active when the shots come from far out I’m very technical too.”
Hall, on who he models his game after: “I kind of compare myself to a player like Brent Seabrook. A shutdown defenseman with some offensive upside.”