Defenseman Brian Dumoulin is attending his first Penguins development camp after being acquired by Pittsburgh, along with center Brandon Sutter and the eighth-overall pick (Derrick Pouliot), for Jordan Staal.
And the first thing you notice about the reigning two-time Hockey East Best Defensive Defenseman is his size. Towering (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) over the media assembled at his locker, Dumoulin discussed his decision to turn pro after three collegiate seasons with Boston College – two of which ended with an NCAA national title.
“To play in the NHL,” said Dumoulin, whose defensive play has been compared to former Stanley Cup-winning Penguin and BC alum Rob Scuderi. “Obviously that’s my goal. If I work as hard as I can, hopefully good things will happen for me. I just have to put myself in good positions. When the opportunity strikes, I have to take full advantage of it.”
One aspect that could help in Dumoulin’s conversion from the college level to the professional level is that BC and the Penguins play a similar defensive style.
Two seasons ago, Eagles head coach Jerry York implemented the Penguins’ method of defensive execution. York even showed BC players tape of Pittsburgh’s defensive zone puck retrievals, breakouts and neutral zone transition.
“I remember sitting in the BC locker room and watching tape of the Pittsburgh Penguins,” Dumoulin said. “Coach Jerry York said this is how we want to play. He knows Pittsburgh has had success and won a Stanley Cup. That’s translated into college and us winning national championships. Coach York has made the style of play like Pittsburgh’s. Hopefully, it will help my transition into the organization.”
Since Dumoulin joined Pittsburgh via the trade of Jordan Staal, a fan favorite, there is a natural belief that the blueliner may feel some added pressure to perform well, but the Penguins hope that is not the case.
“I’m sure he does, but he shouldn’t,” Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald. “Being traded is something that isn’t in your power as a player.
“He’s real excited. I had an opportunity to sit down and have lunch with him after the draft. He’s extremely excited to join our organization as we are for him to join. He’ll be a big part of our future.”
One Penguins defenseman that really made a strong impression at last season’s development camp and September’s training camp was 2011 first-round pick Joe Morrow.
In last season’s NHL camp, the 18-year-old youngster didn’t look out of place playing against veteran players. In fact, his solid performances were rewarded with more ice time and opportunities. Morrow was one of the final roster cuts heading into the 2011-12 regular season.
Morrow took that experience with him when he returned to Portland of the Western Hockey League, resulting in his best career junior season. The smooth-skating blueliner set career highs in goals (17), assists (47) and points (64).
“Going through the whole situation that I went through last year was a lot of fun,” Morrow said. “ Going back to the (Portland) was fun and we had a really good team this year. To be in back-to-back (WHL) Finals was something special. We had a lot of good players get drafted this year.
“I can’t lie to you and say that I didn’t wish I would have stayed (in Pittsburgh). It was probably for the best. I got to develop with really good coaches and had another good year in the league.”
Morrow’s play wasn’t the only thing that grew over the past year. He arrived at development camp with chin-length blonde hair.
“I was close last year so I had to change it up with something,” he joked.
Morrow added: “My mom and my sister bet me that I couldn’t grow my hair out all year. They thought I was a pretty boy and concerned about my appearance. I kind of let it grow out. I don’t know what to do with it anymore.”
With the departure of winger Steve Sullivan via free agency, the Penguins have a hole to fill among their top-6 forwards. One player that will be given an opportunity in training camp to play in that spot is 2010 first-round pick Beau Bennett.
“His hands and ability to create space, get a shot off is fairly evident,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “You envision that as a pro player and you see him as a guy in a top-6 role with that skill ability.”
Bennett signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Penguins in April, turning pro after two collegiate seasons with Denver. However, based on his develop, Bennett felt the time had come take his game to the pro level.
“I felt I was moving in the right direction,” he said. “I gained some weight. I felt it was time. That was the consensus around everyone that I was talking to. It was a decision my family and I made. I think it was the right one.”
Fitzgerald said the decision to leave college was Bennett’s to make, but the organization supported him either way.
“We are a college organization from top to bottom. We believe in the NCAA route as equally as the junior route,” Fitzgerald said. “With Beau it was about what do you want to do? Where do you see your career? What is the next step? When his decision was to leave the University of Denver, we said that’s great. We are open to that.”
Bennett played in only 10 games in 2011-12 with the Pioneers – collecting four goals and 13 points. A wrist injury sidelined him for the remainder of the campaign.
In anticipation for his transition to the pro game, Bennett has been working with professional sports trainer TR Goodman to add muscle and better prepare his body’s conditioning.
He’s hoping all his hard work over the summer will pay off with a leap into the National Hockey League.
“I’m going to ramp up,” he said. “(Goodman’s) training is really high intensity. It’s different than what I’m used to in the past. I’m following his lead.
“Going forward, I want to put myself in the best spot to have an opportunity and maybe take that big step.”
The Penguins made a run during free agency to acquire forward Zach Parise to play as one of the club’s top-6 forwards. Even though Parise opted to sign with Minnesota, the Penguins have plenty of options in filling the hole left by Sullivan’s departure.
“We like the players on our team. We like where our forward group is at,” Bylsma said. “If we have the opportunity to add a top-6 forward, we’ll look into doing that. We also know we have good players and like where we’re at in that forward group.”
Two players that the team could consider adding from outside the organization are Phoenix’s Shane Doan or Washington’s Alexander Semin.
“If you’re talking about adding a player, Shane Doan has attributes in a top-6 role, a big-bodied guy, strong power winger,” Bylsma said. “Alexander Semin has scored 40 goals in this league. He is a dangerous player. You know when he’s on the ice. He’s been dangerous on the Capitals’ power play. Where they fit and the possibilities are things Ray Shero is looking at, we’re looking at as a staff.”
But Bylsma said the team is comfortable with the group of players already in the organization that could fill that spot:
“You see the possibility of seeing younger players in the organization get a chance to play there as well, whether it’s Eric Tangradi in a top-6 role or Beau Bennett getting a chance to play there in exhibition and training camp or Tyler Kennedy. We feel good about the possibilities of guys like Kennedy supplementing that top-6 role.”
The progression and maturation of defenseman Simon Despres is similar to that of another Quebec-native blueliner drafted by the Penguins: Kris Letang.
In fact, coach Bylsma envisioned a scenario where the two players work alongside each other in the future.
“I can see (Despres) as a big-bodied guy that can defend. Putting him next to Kris, you see a formidable pair,” Bylsma said. “Both can defend, but also have the ability to make a pass and make a play. It’s an intriguing matchup. You see a young guy paired with a guy who was a young guy, who is now mature and at a different point in his game. They’ve had similar paths. Simon is a couple years behind Kris and can lean on that. You see that in the pairing.”
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes said that defensive prospects Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait and Despres are NHL ready in their development.
“As far as Robert Bortuzzo and Brian Strait, they’ve proven themselves at the American Hockey League level. They’ve been dominant in Wilkes-Barre. They’ve led our team and played against top players. They’ve played huge minutes. They’ve had good opportunities to get called up and play in Pittsburgh. They had good experiences last year and showed that they can play. Those guys are NHL ready. It depends on what they do with their opportunity and what the openings will be.
“Simon is a highly talented player. He got great experience last year, coming into rookie camp, in Wilkes-Barre and got to play in the playoffs at the National Hockey League level. Those guys are knocking right on the door. They’ve proven themselves through their experiences that they’re ready to take that next step.”
KUHNHACKL MISSES CAMP
Penguins forward Tom Kuhnhackl was unable to attend development camp. Pittsburgh’s fourth-round pick (110th overall) in 2010 is being held out due to an illness.
“Tom wasn’t feeling well over the last week or so,” Hynes said. “We didn’t think it made a lot of sense to have him come over if he couldn’t participate in the activities. It was better for him to stay home, train and get himself ready to go for the fall.”