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Three All-Americans amid Penguins' top prospects

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Goaltender John Curry will be one of the three players named to the 2007 NCAA East and West All-Star teams who will be entering the Pittsburgh Penguins system this season.

The Pittsburgh Penguins certainly have opened a lot of eyes with the play in the pro ranks over the past couple seasons. But looking at the organization’s list of prospects, you can make a pretty good case that the Penguins know a thing or two about the college game as well.

Of the 12 players named to the 2007 NCAA East and West All-Star teams, three players, goalies John Curry (East), David Brown (West) and West defenseman Alex Goligoski, will be entering the Penguins' system this season.

Brown was the nation's top college goalie while at Notre Dame, a highly regarded recruit who was his team's best player in The Fighting Irish's rise to hockey prominence. Curry, on the other hand, was looked at by Boston University, denied a scholarship, went anyway and had an outstanding college career. Curry was undrafted and the Penguins have to be credited for signing an accomplished player who could challenge soon for one of the top goaltending jobs in the organization.

Goligoski had a simply outstanding college career with the University of Minnesota. He was clearly their best player and led the Gophers in assists from the blue line. He'll have a tough battle for the Penguins' No. 6 defenseman's job at training camp because highly touted Kris Letang is coming out of juniors. Letang played seven games for Pittsburgh early last season before the team decided he could use another year of seasoning. He had a good season and looks like a good bet to wear Pittsburgh's uniform in October.

Defense

John McGourty

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Kris Letang --The Penguins took Kris Letang with the 62nd pick overall in 2005 after he made the QMJHL All-Rookie Team. He was outstanding the following season, posting 25 goals and 68 points in 60 games. Letang was even better last season. He played in only 40 QMJHL games because he started the season with the Penguins, scoring in the first two games. Letang was returned after seven games to Val d'Or and then took time out for the World Juniors, where he captained the gold-medal Canadian team and was voted to the WJC All-Star team. Letang was fourth this past season on the Foreurs with 52 points, including 14 goals. He really stood out in the playoffs when he finished first among QMJHL defensemen and second overall with 31 points, including 12 goals. It's expected that Letang will move into the ranks of the Penguins' top-six defensemen this season.

"Kris has had a remarkable two years since we drafted him," Penguins Assistant General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. "He started as a longshot last season at training camp and made the team. He was here for the first month and handled himself quite well. He started showing signs of being a 19-year-old as the season progressed, so we sent him back to juniors where he played very well. He was the captain of the Canadian World Junior team and they won a gold medal. Think about this for a season: He scored in his first two NHL games, won gold at the World Juniors, led his junior team to the championship game and then played in a Calder Cup playoff game with Wilkes-Barre. It was a whirlwind season in terms of seeing the world and playing for many teams. We're bullish on his prospects. He's talented offensively and defensively. He's had success at every level. He was the best player on the ice in that AHL playoff game."

Alex Goligoski -- NCAA West All-American defenseman Goligoski will forego his senior year at the University of Minnesota after signing a three-year pro contract in July. Goligoski led the Gophers with 30 assists and a plus-24 rating. He also added nine assists in a season that saw him named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association player of the year, a WCHA First All-Star and team MVP. He was a WCHA Second Team All Star the year before and was also named to the All-Rookie team as a freshman. He's average sized at 6-foot and 180 pounds. He moves the puck well and has very good passing skills to go with his smooth skating.

"Alex will turn pro this year," Fletcher said. "He's coming off shoulder surgery last April. He had some minor repairs to the labrum. So, right now, Alex is a kid still rehabbing and trying to get ready for training camp. His game fits the new rules in the NHL. He's not the biggest defenseman at 190 pounds. Physically, he'll give up a little at the NHL level, but he's a strong candidate to play in this league because of his puck skills, on-ice vision and overall offensive talent. He moves the puck well and could quarterback our power play down the road."

The Penguins hope that Boston College defenseman Carl Sneep will soon join Chestnut Hill alumni Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi on the Pittsburgh blueline. 
Carl Sneep --The Penguins have developed a pipeline for Boston College defensemen and they hope that the Eagles' blueliner can join Chestnut Hill alumni Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi. Of course, Ryan Whitney played at Boston University so you understand why the Penguins' defense is getting "wicked good." He had a goal and nine assists and was plus-14 for the NCAA Frozen Four finalists. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he's a lot bigger than the six-footers Letang and Goligoski. Big, strong, fast, skilled and a little bit mean on the ice, Sneep was heavily recruited out of Brainerd, Minn. Sneep has some offense but is projected as a defensive defenseman. His lone goal came with his team shorthanded.

"Carl will return to Boston College and be a sophomore this season," Fletcher said. "He's something you don't see too much. Carl was born and raised in Minnesota and somehow found his way to Boston! He had to make a big adjustment last year, adjusting to living in Boston and playing collegiate hockey at the age of 18. Not a lot of kids do that, go straight from high school to a Divison I team. For him, it was a good growth year and he clearly matured as the season went on. We're hoping to see a more confident and more mature player at the end of the upcoming season. Carl is a player with good size and he's a good skater. He can play the penalty kill and the power play. Sneep is a strong, all-around defenseman that we hope takes a big stride this season."

Right wing

Jonathan Filewich -- Filewich had a good rookie AHL season two years ago and improved upon it last season when he had 30 goals and 26 assists, missing the Wilkes-Barre goal-scoring record by one goal. He's an interesting player because many of his goals come from in close to the net, but he's also an extremely fast skater. He won the fastest skater competition at the AHL All-Star Classic. The Penguins love his intensity and work ethic. He was upset with the performance he gave at Penguins' training camp last fall and hit the AHL with a vengeance, scoring at a strong rate until January when he slowed down a bit. Still, he's considered the Penguins' top goal-scoring prospect.

"Jonathan is a consummate professional, on and off ice," Fletcher said. "He's a player who doesn't waver much in effort and production, day to day and game to game. He works hard, on and off the ice. The nice thing is he does a lot of little things right on the ice. Jonathan is strong on the wall and goes to the front of the net. He's strong enough to win the one-on-one battles. He has a workmanlike approach to the rink every day and has consistently improved his play."

Left wing

Tyler Kennedy --One of the many things the Penguins like about Kennedy is his commitment. He's a strong two-way player with offensive ability. He fought through a series of injuries to be named an AHL player of the week in January. He finally had surgery for a hernia and was shut down for the season. Before that, he was considered Wilkes-Barre's best forward and Pittsburgh's best forward prospect. In 40 games, Kennedy had 12 goals and 37 points and was plus-15. He was leading Wilkes-Barre in assists and was seventh in AHL rookie scoring when his season ended prematurely.

"Tyler has been a most pleasant surprise from our expectations," Fletcher said. "No one expected him to play as well as he did. He had a bad injury that hurt his second half, but he was our most productive forward in Wilkes-Barre during the first half. He had a point a game over the first 40 games. Tyler has great quickness and good tenacity on the puck. He's a relentless worker and it shows as he's a tireless forechecker. Tyler is the kind of player who can make something happen. It'll will be interesting to see how he does at training camp, how he bounces back from his injury, and how close he is to playing in the NHL.

Winger Ryan Stone has a good shot to make the Penguins' roster this season.
Ryan Stone -- Stone is coming off a difficult season, but he finished well, giving him and the Penguins reason to hope he may be ready for the NHL. Stone had summer hernia surgery a year ago and wasn't completely ready for training camp. Then he injured his wrist and required surgery, missing 32 games. He returned in March and went on a point-producing spree. He wound up with seven goals and 26 assists and was plus-5. He's a rough player who energizes his teammates with his hard-checking. He needs to cut down on the penalties, but he showed two years ago he can do that and still be productive. He has a good chance to be on the Penguins' roster this season.

"Ryan is a big strong man. He's got the body to be a power forward in the NHL," Fletcher said. "He has some offensive touch with the puck and he has some grit and size. The main challenge for Ryan is picking up quickness and agility, getting quicker for the NHL. Ryan has been dogged by injuries and he was rehabbing a sports hernia at the start of last year. Then, he had a hand injury. He's missed some important time over the past two seasons. He's healthy this summer and he's focused on getting stronger and quicker and filling out that big frame. His combination of size and talent should make him a pretty productive NHLer down the road."

Goaltending

David Brown -- The 2007 Central Collegiate Hockey Association Player of the Year led the NCAA with 30 wins and a 1.58 goals-against average. Brown posted a .931 save percentage, which ranked second in the college ranks, in leading Notre Dame to its first CCHA title. He was one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. He was an eighth-round pick in 2004, 228th overall. He'd go a lot higher if his draft year was this year.

"David Brown played very well at Notre Dame. He was clearly their best player and arguably one of the best NCAA goaltenders," Fletcher said. "He had a very strong senior season under coach Jeff Jackson. We are very thin in young goalie prospects, so we were glad to get him signed. We're eager to see how he progresses in pro hockey. We've got Marc-Andre Fleury and Dany Sabourin in Pittsburgh and we signed Ty Conklin, whom we expect to start in Wilkes-Barre. We also signed former Boston University goalie John Curry, so we're thinking we'll rotate Brown and Curry between Wilkes-Barre and ECHL Wheeling to make sure they get plenty of games. It doesn't help a young goalie to sit. They need to play."

John Curry -- Curry was recruited by Boston University, but not offered a scholarship. It takes guts to move halfway across the country, practically into the enemy's camp given the territorial nature of American college hockey, to try to beat out the guy they gave "your" scholarship. But that's what Curry did, taking over the Terriers' netminding job in his sophomore season and holding it for three years, winning the coveted Beanpot Trophy each year. He followed his junior-year selection as a Second Team All-American by earning First Team honors this past season. He was the 2007 Hockey East Player of the Year and the New England MVP, as well as a Top Ten nominee for the Hobey Baker Award. Curry led the NCAA with seven shutouts, was fourth with a 2.01 goals-against average and sixth with a .928 save percentage.

"Here's another kid from Minnesota playing in Boston, a walk-on who beat out a scholarship goalie," Fletcher said. "John became the starter and he had a remarkable record in wins, save percentage and goals-against average. He had one of the highest save percentages in the history of the Beanpot Tournament. That's important. One of the things that we really liked about John was that as the games rose in importance, his play seemed to get better and better. The bigger the game, the better he played. John Curry is a competitive kid with good quickness in his hands and feet. We thought, here's an undrafted goalie who had a terrific collegiate career, so it made sense to sign him and get some depth in our system. We just have to see how he adjusts to pro hockey. He should be OK. We got good reports from our scouts Kevin Stevens and Jimmy Madigan, who watched him for a long time."

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