2008-2009 Top 12 Prospects: Pittsburgh Penguins

Shane Malloy, Prospect Insider

6/2/2009 12:43:03 PM

The rebuilding process for the Penguins organization is complete from an NHL standpoint, but the club's remaining prospects have yet to fully develop.

The system looks depleted compared to other clubs, since three of their last four first rounders are in the lineup and Angelo Esposito was traded away. They also had two more prospects that fully graduated into the NHL in Kris Letang and Tyler Kennedy. The Pens will need more prospects on this list to develop to make up for the past trades of Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen and the draft picks given up for Marian Hossa. The scouting and player development staff has had their hands tied behind their back in some respects, since management sacrificed some of the future to win now. Considering the talent level on the Penguins roster it was a good gamble to take and it remains to be seen if it will pay off. This group is full of mid-round picks, so it is up to player development to mold them into NHLers.

They do have some pieces that might develop into role players. They are hoping Luca Caputi, Keven Veilleux, Nick Johnson, Casey Pierro–Zabotel, Nathan Moon and Tim Crowder can mature. The addition of Eric Tangradi was an added bonus to the farm system and he can fill the grit factor left by Armstrong. Overall, the Penguins will need two to three good drafts to replenish the forward ranks.

The defence has a very promising offensive blueliner in Alex Goligoski, who played a good rookie season in the NHL. Behind him are Carl Sneep, Brian Strait, Alex Grant and Robert Bortuzzo, who all have some tools but need additional time to learn their craft. Goligoski is expected to be in the Pittsburgh's lineup full time next season, so the Pens must look at trying to add some skill and depth to the blueline.

The most prominent of netminding prospect the Pens have are David Brown - originally from Notre Dame - and Chad Johnson from Alaska. The two goalies they picked in last year's draft are late round picks Alexander Pechurski and Patrick Killeen. Free agent pick up John Curry has played well, but he is no longer a prospect and has been moved off the list. It is fair to say that the Penguins could use an elite level netminder in the system.

1. Alex Goligoski – Defence, 22 (2nd round, 61st overall, 2004)
Currently with Pittsburgh/Wilkes-Barre (NHL/AHL)

A smaller pucker moving defenceman with the ability to run the power play, Goligoski makes a nice first pass out of his zone. At 5-11 and 180 pounds, he will need to add some strength to handle larger forwards. He has all the puck skills and passing ability to produce and in the NHL and makes good decisions moving the puck. He has a good, accurate wrist and slap shot from the point which allows for rebounds and tips. To be effective he will need to be a puck possession defenceman and keep his feet going to avoid contact and play down low. He must work on keeping his head on a swivel, keeping the right angles and body position while using his stick to disrupt passing lanes. If he can make the transition to the NHL, he may be an offensive No. 4 defenceman. His 20 points in 45 games was good for a rookie and he made a solid contribution on the power play. He may need another year to work out his defensive game and gain some strength and weight before making the jump full time.

2. Eric Tangradi – Right Wing, 20 (2nd round 42nd overall 2007 – Trade Anaheim)
Currently with Belleville (OHL)

He's a strapping 6-3 and 214 pounder with offensive talent and the potential to be power forward. He has good puck skills, vision and hockey sense to make plays at a quick tempo. He also has a quick shot and can score goals if he is willing to linger in the crease. He can handle the physical battles, but can still take it to another level and be more assertive. He is a good skater overall and is working at his defensive game, but it still needs some work. He has put up great numbers offensively with 88 points in 55 games and is a playoff performer with 21 points in 16 games. His experience at the WJC for Team USA will help in his development, but expect him to play a season in the AHL.

3. Luca Caputi – Left Wing, 20 (4th round 111th overall 2007)
Currently with Wilkes-Barre (AHL)

He's an enigma as a player, because he can dominate in some areas of the ice and is a work in progress in others. He broke out three seasons ago in the OHL with 65 points in 68 games and followed up with an impressive 111 points in 66 games. As a rookie, Caputi looked very good posting 45 points in 66 games and is not that far away from the NHL. He has all the offensive tools you look for with the puck skills, hockey sense, vision and poise under duress to be an NHL player. His frame needs some strength and power before he takes his game to another level. His skating is not that good, but he gets there and he will needs to get a little quicker which should come when he is stronger. He shows determination and moxie playing in the slot and has a quick wrist shot and snapshot. He had taken his physical game to another level last season in the OHL and it reflected in his penalty minutes jumping from 66 to 107. With that aspect of his game in the right direction, his defensive game needs work before he turns pro. He has potential and talent, but it remains to be can be a complete package and not one-dimensional.

4. Casey Pierro–Zabotel – Left Wing, 20 (3rd round, 80th overall, 2007)
Currently with Vancouver (WHL)

After three seasons in the BCHL, where dominated the last year with 116 points in 55 games, he needed a new challenge. He followed that up playing two excellent seasons in the WHL, compiling 163 points in 121 games combined. He fine-tuned some aspects of his defensive game and intangibles. He has a better chance of being a legitimate prospect after playing in a pro style environment like Vancouver offers. He has good size on the wing, but he needs to use his size along the boards and cycle the puck more effectively. He shows good hockey sense and awareness around the net and has some good puck skills and can stickhandle to create some time and space. He's not physical, but will battle for pucks at times especially in the offensive zone and shied away when it came to fights compared to the past. He must continue to work on his hustle in the defensive zone but has the tools to play. He will make the jump to the AHL and might be better served for his long term potential to stay and develop for a couple of seasons.

5. Nick Johnson – Right Wing, 22 (3rd round 67th overall 2004)
Currently with Wilkes-Barre (AHL)

He's been a forgotten piece in the Penguins' farm system since he spent all four years of University at Dartmouth in the ECAC. Although Johnson produced 125 points in 133 games, his level of competition was not nearly as difficult as his peers. This lack of competition gave everyone a little uncertainty on whether he could make the jump to the professional. He possesses the size to handle the rigors of the pro game. The question remains on whether he has the hockey sense and puck skills to play the NHL game. He split time between the ECHL and the AHL in his rookie season and proved he belonged midway through the season. His shot is quick and shows some accuracy in close, but he will need to maintain a greater presence in the traffic areas to score consistently. On the defensive side of the puck, he is reliable due to his smarts but he needs to fine-tune some aspects of his game. Overall, he shows promise and just needs time to work on his consistency, conditioning and overall game before he takes the next step.

6. Keven Veilleux – Centre/Right Wing, 19 (2nd round, 51st overall, 2007)
Currently with Rimouski (QMJHL)

He's a lanky 6- 5 and 202 pound forward with the potential to play, but he leaves you constantly wanting more. Now he does not have elite puck skills, hockey sense or vision but they are good considering he has produced 167 points in 160 games in the last three seasons. He's an average skater for his size and his wingspan makes up for his overall quickness and agility. He has a good wrist and slap shot but neither one is overtly accurate or powerful. He must continue to work on his game without the puck and the importance of keeping his feet moving and using his stick and frame to limit options. He must show a willingness to play in the tough areas and play with feistiness and moxie consistently. He is a long-term project that might develop into a fine NHL role player.

7. Alex Grant – Defence, 20 (4th round, 118th overall 2007)
Currently with Shawinigan (QMJHL)

The 6-2 and 190 pound blueliner has the frame to fill out and will need long term development. He can make good passes and does some good things with the puck when he keeps his game simple. He makes better decisions with the puck when his has more time and space on the power play. He can skate well and has the quickness to jump into the play or retreat back to the defensive zone. He will bang and crash and will drop the gloves when needed and shows toughness in front of the net on most nights. He does not make quick enough decisions, so he must maintain good body position. He has produced offensively with 143 points in 245 games, but it remains to be seen if he can play at a higher tempo and speed.

8. Nathan Moon – Centre, 19 (4th round 120th overall 2008)
Currently with Kingston (OHL)

The one thing you can say about Moon is he has all the puck skills and hockey sense you want in a player. However, he needs to continue to work on other aspects of his game. From an offensive standpoint, it is hard to argue with 149 points in 130 games over the past two seasons but numbers are not everything. He can make nice passes and shows vision as a playmaker, but he just needs to be more patient and allow plays to develop. His wrist and slap shot is quick and accurate and Moon is not afraid to go into the slot. His skating is good from an agility standpoint but it would not hurt to have an extra gear in his quickness and foot speed to create separation. Away from the puck, he is beginning to understand some of the nuances and the importance they play in the creation of offense. He has become far better killing penalties and has a knack for getting shorthanded goals. Considering he is not that big, Moon has shown some feistiness to his game and can accumulate a lot of penalty minutes. If he continues to get stronger and faster, the Pens may have something.

9. Carl Sneep – Defence, 21 (2nd round, 32nd overall, 2006)
Currently with Boston College (NCAA)

The 6-3 and 205 pound defensive defenseman has progressed quicker than expected due to his team's success over the past few years. He does not do one thing great but does many things well. He has enough puck skills to get the puck out of his end safely and uses the first two options pretty well. He does not have any major deficiencies in his skating, but could be a little quicker. He plays a sound defensive game and is reliable in his zone. Down low, he can contain forwards with body position but he is not that physically punishing - which is not surprising considering his 49 penalty minutes over 115 games. He has the potential to be a defensive defenseman in the AHL and perhaps the NHL if he gets a little quicker, stronger and meaner.

10. Brian Strait – Defence, 21 (3rd round 65th overall 2006)
Currently with Boston University (NCAA)
Strait is a third year college player who has had the luxury of developing slow and being a part of a National Championship. The Boston native is a basic defensive defenceman who tries to go out and do all the little things right. He does not possess the high end puck skills, but Strait will make short, quick safe passes and will not put the puck into a danger area. He skates well enough but there is always room for improvement - especially when he has to face forwards at the pro level. Like all defencemen, he needs some refinement in his game – like making sure he makes quicker decisions. It would not hurt him to play one more season in college before turning pro and Strait could develop into a third pairing defenceman in the NHL.

11. Robert Bortuzzo – Defence, 20 (3rd round, 78th overall, 2007)
Currently with Kitchener (OHL)

He's a no-nonsense defensive defenceman who has the size to handle the rigors of the NHL with a 6-4 and 207 pound frame. He does not have the puck skills or the offensive instincts to produce offence and is best to keep his game simple when the puck is on his stick. He is a decent skater but needs some quickness and agility down low. He has a decent, low shot from the point that he tries to keep on net for tips and rebounds. He plays a shut down role and uses his size and stick well to take away options and keeps his head up. He needs to fine-tune his angles and maintain position before going out to make a big hit. He is showing he can log a lot of ice time and the experience of the Memorial Cup should help his development.

12. Tim Crowder – Left Wing, 22 (5th round, 126th overall 2005)
Currently with Michigan State

He has the size at 6-3 and 185 pounds, but needs to add strength and power to his frame. He has decent hockey sense and vision, with the puck skills to contribute offensively. But he can be a streaky scorer and needs to step up more in the postseason. He's an average skater once he gets going and he has the agility to compensate, but his quickness needs a little work. He has an okay wrist and slap shot, but it lacks speed and power to catch goalies off guard. He can use his size, but is not a physical player and plays a more finesse style. He's a long-term project and most likely will not play past the AHL.


Pittsburgh Penguins - NHL Entry Draft Record (1997 - 2003)

When looking at the drafting and developing record of a NHL organization it becomes an interesting blend of statistics and circumstances with perhaps some luck thrown in for good measure. Most of the time the General Manager receives kudos for a teams fortunes at the draft table when in reality it is usually never the case in today's NHL. For the most part there are three aspects that make the whole process work; first is the amateur scouting department's ability to evaluate and project talent which may be the most challenging of all. Next the organizations player development department must attempt to mold the prospects by giving the players tools to enhance his talents. Perhaps most importantly is the prospects responsibility to pay the price and sacrifice which generally requires a tremendous work ethic. If one of these aspects fails then the likelihood of a prospect turning into an asset to his organization and having a NHL career becomes remote.

The reason for the analyzing the years from 1997 to 2003 is to first give each NHL organization five years to develop their prospects as players from different leagues evolve differently. Secondly the years from 1997-2003 are the players that should be the building blocks of the core of your team as they will be in the 23-29 year old age range. What makes each organization unique is what they do with the picks they have as management will often trade draft choices for immediate help on their NHL and AHL teams. Now some players may be real late bloomers and eventually make the criteria set in this analysis down the road but at this stage it is fascinating to see the results.

Criteria of NHL games played that deem a player has been drafted and developed successfully.


  Forwards - Defenceman Goaltenders
1997-2001 125-200 NHL Games required 51-100 NHL Games Played
2002-2003 100 NHL Games required 25-50 NHL Games Played
Pending Player - Represents a player who has a legitimate chance to make criteria

Pittsburgh Penguins 1997-2003

Year Draft Picks NHL Players Produced (Round/Pick)
1997 9 (2) (D) Josef Melichar (3/71), (D) Andrew Ference (8/208)
1998 10 (3) (C) Milan Kraft (1/23), (D) Rob Scuderi (5/134), (C) Toby Petersen (9/244)
1999 11 (4) (RW) Konstantin Koltsov (1/18), (LW) Ryan Malone (4/115), (G) Sebastien Caron (3/86), (RW) Tom Kostopoulos (7/204)
2000 10 (2) (D) Brooks Orpik (1/18), (RW) Michel Ouellet (4/124)
2001 9 (2) (LW) Colby Armstrong (1/21), (LW) Tomas Surovy (4/120)
2002 11 (3) (D) Ryan Whitney (1/5), (C) Erik Christiansen (3/69), (C) Maxim Talbot (8/234)
2003 11 (2) (G) Marc-Andre Fleury (1/1), (LW) Dan Carcillo (3/73)

Total: 7 yrs – 71 draft picks – 18 NHL Players = 25.3% success rate

Success in the first three rounds (1997-2003)

1st rnd Draft Choices: 7 total picks
Robert Dome
7 yrs – 7 draft picks – 6 NHL Players = 85.7% success rate

2nd rnd Draft Choices: 8 total picks
Brian Gaffaney, Alexander Zevakkhin, Matt Murley, Jeremy Van Hoof, Shane Endicott, Noah Welch, Ondrej Nemec, Ryan Stone
7 yrs - 8 draft picks – 0 NHL Players = 0% success rate

3rd rnd Choices: 9 total picks
Petr Sykora, Jake McCracken
7 yrs – 3 draft picks – 1 NHL Players = 33.3% success rate

Total: 7yrs – 24 draft picks – 10 NHL Players = 41.6% success rate in first 3 rounds

First Three Rounds - Developed vs. Prospects/NA vs. Euro
Developed players: (7) North American, (3) European
Undeveloped Prospects: (10) North American, (4) European

Success in the last six rounds (1997-2003)

4th rnd to 9th rnd Choices: 48 total picks
7 yrs – 47 draft picks – 8 NHL Players = 17.0% success rate

Shane Malloy provides hockey prospect insight and analysis on his Prospect Insider feature on, Canada's leading sports website. Many sports networks, hockey magazines and major newspapers have drawn upon his expertise and knowledge. His passion for the game and involvement in grass roots hockey from the junior hockey to the National Hockey League is evident. He is currently a host and hockey event reporter on XM Sirius Satellite Radio (Home Ice 204) where he co-hosts a hockey radio show on Hockey Prospects and the Business of Hockey.

Prior to joining TSN, Malloy was the columnist-covering prospects for for two years and a NHL and prospect columnist Fox for six years.

This document is the intellectual property of Shane Malloy and cannot be used or duplicated in anyway without expressed written consent. Any use of this document without the expressed written consent of Shane Malloy will result in public exposure and legal prosecution.

Hockey Prospect Radio