For Pens prospects, crowded blue line
By Chris Harlan
Published: Friday, July 13, 2012, 11:40 p.m.
Updated: Friday, July 13, 2012
Penguins prospect Scott Harrington noticed an immediate difference from last year’s camp.
“There are definitely a lot more defensemen,” he said, “and good defensemen at that.”
A second-round pick in 2011, Harrington has joined a dozen other young defensemen this week at Consol Energy Center for the Penguins prospect development camp. It’s his second time at the weeklong workouts that end today with a 3 p.m. scrimmage that’s free to the public.
A year ago, there were nine blueliners. And of them, few were high draft picks. But this time there are four first-round picks and three seconds.
The ice around Harrington seemed more crowded.
“Regardless of the competition, it’s important to have a good camp,” he said. “But with the talent level so high this year, it’s even more important that you leave a good impression on the coaching staff.”
At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, the 19-year-old from Kingston, Ontario, has grown and matured since last summer, when he first grabbed coaches’ attention. A first-team all-star for OHL champion London, Harrington has been chosen for the Canada-Russia Challenge next month in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“Our scouts and our management have done a great job of building a lot of blue-chip prospects for us to work with,” assistant coach Todd Reirden said.
The Penguins intentionally have stockpiled young defensemen. They chose 11 in the past four drafts and traded for two others. With them now sharing the ice, the positional depth becomes obvious.
“It’s incredible, actually,” said Joe Morrow, the Penguins’ first-round pick in 2011. “Everybody’s pretty evenly matched. I try to do my best to stand out, but it’s harder than I expected.”
The Penguins used this year’s first-round picks on defensemen: Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta. Also at camp is 2009 first-rounder Simon Despres, a favorite to begin this season on the NHL roster. But just as talented are the second-rounders.
“It’s pretty deep, but I don’t think it scares anyone,” said Pouliot, chosen eighth overall in June’s draft. “It’s good competition and makes you fight that much harder for a spot on the team.”
Their development is crucial, and the Penguins had almost as many coaches as players taking part in Friday’s defensive practice.
“I’ve watched all of them play on video,” Reirden said. “Now I get to see them and mold them into Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen. Certainly there’s a lot to mold there.”
Pouliot, 18, and Maatta, 17, certainly fit the team’s style and system. Reirden praised the composure of both and describe their mobility as “high-end.”
“We wanted to make sure we put an emphasis on defensemen that are mobile (and) can defend,” Reirden said, “and can take the place of some of our older defensemen as we move forward here.
“We’ve got an outstanding group of forwards in place. We’ve got to make sure they get the puck.”
But not all can be future Penguins. Some will never reach expectations. Others will be traded. That has prospects wondering who goes where.
“Hockey’s a business, and trades are a huge part of hockey,” Morrow said. “We do have a lot of defensemen, and something’s bound to happen sooner or later, whether it be me or anybody in this room. You never know if you’re safe or not, but you try to come out here, do your best and solidify a spot in the organization.
“That’s what I’m trying to do, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here.”
Note: The Penguins signed forward Benn Ferriero to a one-year, two-way contract worth $700,000 at the NHL level. Ferriero, 25, has spent parts of the last three seasons with for the San Jose Sharks.
Penguins newcomers make solid impressions
By Chris Harlan
Published: Saturday, July 14, 2012, 9:08 p.m.
Updated: Saturday, July 14, 2012
There were few surprises this week at prospect development camp, but seeing newcomer Harrison Ruopp score a shootout goal would make the list.
“I didn’t expect that, but he did,” Tom Fitzgerald, assistant to the general manager, said, with a laugh.
Known more for toughness than scoring touch, Ruopp buried a breakaway goal during Saturday’s scrimmage at Consol
Energy Center that concluded a five-day camp for Penguins prospects.
The scrimmage roster was heavy with offensive-minded defensemen, yet Ruopp and fellow stay-at-home blueliner Brian Dumoulin weren’t overshadowed.
“Although I might not be as flashy as some of the guys, I’ll try to do whatever I can to be a reliable defenseman,” said Dumoulin, who was acquired from Carolina in the Jordan Staal trade.
More than 6,000 fans watched the afternoon scrimmage, which was divided into five sections: two 25-minute halves, two shootouts and a five-minute three-on-three session. The White Team that included Ruopp won three of the five contests, giving it a 3-2 victory.
Dumoulin, 22, scored the only three-on-three goal. The 6-foot-4, 219-pounder had five goals and 20 assists last season for Boston College.
Ruopp, 19, was acquired from Phoenix last month in a draft-day trade that sent Zbynek Michalek to the Coyotes. The Penguins had considered drafting the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Ruopp in 2011, until Phoenix took him with a third-round pick.
“He’s a big kid who was on our radar during his draft year,” said Fitzgerald, who called Ruopp’s skills raw. “We had a chance to pick him up in a trade, and we did it.”
Ruopp had just two goals in 62 games last season while playing juniors for Prince Albert in the Western Hockey League. He also had 127 penalty minutes.
“I take pride in my physical play,” Ruopp said, and fighting is “something I’m not afraid to do.” But he left this camp determined to improve his “puck skills (and) offensive play,” he said.
Ruopp had been working out at a gym when the trade was finished June 22, a move that surprised the Ontario native.
“They don’t have very good service in there,” he said. “When I stepped outside for a second, my phone was going off the hook. I found out from my friend. He’d seen it on twitter. It’s not the greatest way to find out, but I was very excited, though.”
Ready for camp
Simon Despres, who scored a goal during the second 25-minute period, was the only prospect at camp with NHL experience. The defenseman played 18 games last season with the Penguins, a stretch that boosted his confidence.
“I proved I can play at this level,” said Despres, a first-round pick in 2009. But the 20-year-old said that won’t change his approach.
“Every year, you want to come into camp with the mindset of doing your best, leave the best impression and hopefully crack the lineup,” Despres said. “I’m going to keep the same mindset.”
Defenseman Reid McNeill, right wing Matia Marcantuoni and center Zach Sill also scored during the five-on-five.
Right wing Beau Bennett, who played his first game since his December surgery, wore a brace to protect his right wrist.
The 2010 first-round pick said the wrist was sore and weaker than usual, but he finished the scrimmage without issue.
“It does get sore, but I think that will get better as time goes on,” Bennett said. “That’s another focus going home ... getting the wrist back to 100 percent.”
Doctors told Bennett that might take a year, he said. The injury showed most on a sharp-angled wrist shot Saturday that didn’t have his usual snap.
Four of the Penguins’ best defensemen were grouped together on the Black Team, when Joe Morrow was paired with Scott Harrington, and Dumoulin was paired with Derrick Pouliot, the eighth overall pick in June’s draft. Morrow was a first-rounder in 2011, and Harrington was a second-rounder that year.
The Penguins used three goalies, with Sean Maguire and Matt Murray alternating for the White Team. Undrafted goalie Ryan Faragher of St. Cloud State, who handled the entire afternoon for the Black Team, enjoyed the added work.
“I showed them I’m a hard worker,” Faragher said. “I compete to the end. That’s just the kind of person I am. I come from a blue-collar family. That’s the kind of work ethic I have.”
Faragher, 22, hopes a good college season this fall could draw a professional offer.
Pens Prospects, Staff Appreciate Fan Turnout at Scrimmage
Saturday, 07.14.2012 / 6:56 PM
Features By Greg Fernandez
When the gates to the CONSOL Energy Center opened to the public at 2:30 p.m., Penguins fans of all ages began piling into the arena to find a seat to watch the organization’s talented prospects take the ice for their development camp scrimmage.
As the players hit the ice for warmups, the arena filled with cheers from over 6,000 fans taking up two-thirds of the lower bowl who were delighted to be watching hockey in July.
“I’m really ecstatic for this game,” said Penguins fan Bobby Wehrle. “It’s awesome that the event is free and it’s a great time to come by, see the other fans and see some of the new players that we’ve got.”
For many fans, it was an opportunity to see the Penguins' deep pool of talented prospects in game action. With many of these young players still in juniors or at college, this is one of the few chances that fans will get to see them perform under the CONSOL Energy lights before they hit the big stage.
“I’m really excited to see (Olli) Maatta play,” Cameron Reeder said. “I’ve seen him play in juniors a lot and I think he’s going to be a great fit for the team.”
The prospects divided into two teams – Team White (coached by assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald) and Team Black (coached by player development coach Bill Guerin, who elicited perhaps the loudest cheers of the day when shown on the videoboard).
Fans were given two 25-minute halves, with a shootout after the first intermission, a 3-on-3 overtime after the final score turned out to be a tie (2-2) and witnessed an AHL-style five-round shootout to close out the game, with the White Team coming out on top, 3-2.
After a week long of hard practices, it was an opportunity for the prospects to put together what they had learned over the week in front of the large crowd – who the players saluted at the game’s end.
“It was a great way to end the week,” defenseman Simon Despres said. “We had a nice game and everyone played hard. It’s fun to have a lot of fans. The fans were incredible to come and see us prospects.”
The Penguins faithful brought their immense enthusiasm throughout the game, as the gasps and cheers were heard in the arena after each big play. It was a whole different experience for some, like Swedish-born center Oskar Sundqvist.
“It was really fun and with all the people it was amazing,” Sundqvist said with a smile. “In Sweden, it’s just a couple hundred that come to the games.”
I think it’s fantastic that the fans come out like that to watch what is in the cupboard and what’s coming down the road here. Our fans are our fans. These guys are going to be playing for them someday. For them to come out, I think it says a lot about the city and the fanbase. - Assistant to the GM Tom Fitzgerald“I think they were surprised at the number of fans,” assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. "I think it’s fantastic that the fans come out like that to watch what is in the cupboard and what’s coming down the road here. Our fans are our fans. These guys are going to be playing for them someday. For them to come out, I think it says a lot about the city and the fanbase.”
The turnout of over 6,000 fans for this year's scrimmage exceeded last year's impressive count of just over 5,000, and the players couldn't be more grateful to have such support.
"It’s the best, to have a fanbase like this," 2011 first-round pick Joe Morrow said. "Just to have that many fans come out just for prospects and for a couple of kids playing out on the ice is just phenomenal. It really makes you appreciate the place that you play in. To have over 6,000 people out there, it was really special. The same thing happened last year. It’s fantastic. It’s a lot of fun."
Throughout much of the game, the stockpile of blue-chip defense prospects that the Penguins possess were put on full display as Team Black contained the 2012 first-rounder Derrick Pouliot, 2011 draftees Morrow and Scott Harrington and newly-acquired Brian Dumoulin. Team White had Pittsburgh's other 2012 first-rounder Maatta, along with Simon Despres and Harrison Ruopp.
“There’s a lot of great players on the ice here, especially great defensemen,” Harrington said. “For all of us to get on the ice at the same time in a game situation is a bit of an eye opener for all of us so we can kind of see where everybody’s at. I think that everybody played pretty well. It’s hard gelling with a defenseman if you’ve never played with him, but personally I think Morrow and I did pretty good job and it was a lot of fun.”
As the final chapter of this week has closed, a new chapter begins for some of these prospects as they head to their respective teams in juniors, college or with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. One thing is for sure – the future appears very bright for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“This is by far the best group of talent we’ve had at development camp,” assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “That’s not a knock to the kids in the past, but overall the talent pool is getting richer. We’ve got some really talented kids and it’s our job as an organization to mold them to the way that we want to play.“
Pens Like Ruopp's Aggressive Game
Friday, 07.13.2012 / 2:30 PM
Features By Michelle Crechiolo
Penguins management was thrilled to acquire Harrison Ruopp in the trade that sent Zbynek Michalek to Phoenix at this year’s NHL Draft – especially because they’d nearly drafted him the year before.
“We really, really came close to taking him last year in the second round,” Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. “Our guys really like him.”
It would be the Coyotes who ended up selecting Ruopp, taking him in the third round (84th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft before he was sent to Pittsburgh on June 22 in exchange for Zbynek Michalek.
Ruopp, a defenseman for the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League (WHL) actually found out about the trade via Twitter.
“I was in my gym, which is called Pure Body Conditioning,” Ruopp said of where he was on Day 1 of the 2012 NHL Draft, when the trade went down. “Inside the gym, we don’t have good cell reception. I was in there and we were actually kind of celebrating my friend Ryan Murray getting drafted second overall (Columbus). Once I stepped out of the gym and I got service, my phone was blowing up and vibrating off the hook. Actually, my buddy told me. He was like, ‘you got traded,’ and I was like, ‘really?’ He showed me a tweet.
“Then I had to make some phone calls. But needless to say, I was really excited.”
Ruopp is a big, bruising defenseman (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) who excels on the penalty kill and who emulates himself after a player who made a career out of the physical side of the game – retired blueliner Scott Stevens.
“He was my favorite player,” Ruopp said. “Actually, after he retired was when I kind of didn’t watch as much hockey. … I’ve always liked the physical side of the game and I know he played like that.”
Shero said what the Penguins like most about Ruopp is that physical edge he brings to the ice.
“He’s a big kid that plays an aggressive game and skates well,” Shero said. “His puck skills need to come up a bit, but he plays an aggressive game which adds to the mix to our defense and is important moving forward.”
Something else Ruopp possesses is the will to win. He said the way the Raiders have struggled the past few seasons have taught him how to deal with adversity, and to “really hate to lose.”
Ruopp said his style of play is “definitely more defensive,” adding that it’s “just kind of gritty. I take pride in my compete level and being solid in the D zone.”
But with that being said, Ruopp said he’s adjusting well to the Penguins’ high-tempo, aggressive systems that focus on puck retrievals and quick breakouts this week at prospect development camp.
“They make it really easy for it to become comfortable for you. They’re really good at teaching it to you. It’s been good so far.”
Although Ruopp plans on attending training camp this fall, Shero said the 19-year-old defenseman will need more time in juniors to continue honing his game.
When Ruopp returns to Prince Albert for his fourth season, he plans on embracing his leadership role and any and all opportunities to continue expanding his repertoire of skills.
“This will be my fourth year now, and as I’ve been here my role’s changed – mostly this past year,” he said. “I got a letter on my jersey and I was wearing an A, so I took on a bit more of a leadership role. Playing lots more PK. Then they were actually giving me some power-play time, which is nice. It’s something I’m not used to, but I’ll definitely take advantage of the opportunity when I’m given it.”
He’s learned a lot about his new team during his week here in Pittsburgh, and it’s opened his eyes as to what he needs to do in order to make it at the NHL level.
“Definitely take everything I learned here back home and apply it to my training,” he said. “Definitely have kind of a different mindset going back into it and just keep working hard.”
Maatta's Potential Thrills Pens
Wednesday, 07.18.2012 / 6:00 AM
Features By Michelle Crechiolo
The Penguins were absolutely thrilled to get defenseman Olli Maatta with the No. 22 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft – especially because he’s the kind of talent that could have gone much earlier.
“The Penguins definitely got a steal where they got him,” London teammate and fellow Pittsburgh prospect Scott Harrington said. “I definitely thought he’d go top 10 for sure. He’s just an all-around two-way defenseman. He does everything really well. He plays with a lot of poise and confidence.”
And Maatta couldn’t have been happier to go to the hometown crowd with the 22nd-overall pick – especially after seeing the reception that the Penguins’ other first-round pick, Derrick Pouliot (eighth overall), received after being selected.
“It was great. Actually, the feeling was unbelievable,” Maatta said. “I had kind of hoped to get drafted by Pittsburgh when they cheered for Pouliot when he got picked No. 8. It was a pretty good feeling.”
Maatta’s got that poise and confidence Harrington mentioned despite being the youngest prospect in the Penguins organization at 17 years old (he doesn’t turn 18 until Aug. 22). And physically, Maatta is already well on his way to having an NHL-ready frame at 6-foot-2, 206 pounds.
“Maatta is over 200 pounds right now,” Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “You can see what he’s going to be.”
Maatta has already accomplished a lot in his young hockey career. Most recently, he played a big role in helping the Knights to the Memorial Cup Championship Final in May – where they lost in overtime to the host Shawinigan Cataractes.
This past season marked Maatta’s first in North America, as the young defenseman was born and raised in Finland. He was one of just two players on London’s roster that came to the team through the CHL Import Draft, but he picked up both the North American style of play and culture quickly thanks to his teammates and coaches.
“The game differs a little bit from the game in Europe, but the guys taught me well and taught me a lot and so did the coaches,” he said. “And living in Canada, it’s not too much different from living in Finland.”
Maatta also said his English improved dramatically in just his one year here, saying that “I studied 10 years before coming here. But you know what, I’ve improved at least two times over since I’ve been here this one year from the whole time I studied it. “
And everything came together for Maatta during London’s lengthy playoff run, as he ranked tied for first in team scoring with six goals and 23 points through 19 games after posting five goals and 32 points during 58 regular-season games (which led all Knights defensemen and earned Maatta a spot on the OHL First-Team All-Rookie squad).
Maatta played all situations for the Knights – power play, penalty kill and, of course, 5-on-5.
“I really felt comfortable in the playoffs,” he said. “I like the game here. Just the tempo and the speed here, I think it fits well with me. I really like that.”
What also might have helped Maatta shine on such a big stage was his experience at an international level.
He’s one of the rare prospects to have played in two World Junior Championships before the draft, becoming the first player since 1998 to represent Finland in the tournament at the age of 16 in 2011.
And while his 2012 tournament was cut short due to injury, Maatta said representing his country at that level is something that’s helped his growth dramatically.
“It was a great experience for me,” he said. “I got to play in games against guys 3, 4 years older. It helped me a lot with my career thus far.”
Maatta’s joy at being part of an organization like the Penguins has been evident since he first addressed the media shortly after being drafted in the arena and city that he’ll play in someday.
He’s expressed his amazement with the Penguins’ gorgeous facilities at CONSOL Energy Center, saying “it’s a new rink, so I don’t know what else to hope for. It’s unbelievable here. The town itself, it’s great.”
Maatta, who went and visited the official team store to get caps and shirts for his friends back home in Finland during draft weekend, also joked that “you could almost kind of live there, if you want to sleep over. Just go ahead."
Being drafted and attending his first-ever prospect development camp last week has been an eye-opener for this teenager, who’s going to do everything he can to make sure he gets here.
“I really feel like I have to get (my skating) better to make it to the NHL,” he said. “Just overall strength too. And just every day at practice, to be there every day and do your best. Just put 100 percent on the ice. That’s what I learned and what I want to bring back to London.”
Bennett Preparing for Transition to Pros
Thursday, 07.19.2012 / 6:00 AM
Features By Greg Fernandez
When entering the Penguins locker room each day for media availability during this year’s development camp, it always seemed that one player was in highest demand.
That can happen when the team’s head coach mentions his name along with Sidney Crosby’s in the same sentence.
Beau Bennett’s career has begun with high expectations as the Penguins’ 2010 first-round draft pick (20th overall) signed a three-year entry-level contract on April 13 after finishing his sophomore season at the University of Denver.
Bennett, 20, is out to make an impact any way he can, with head coach Dan Bylsma even hinting at the possibility of him earning a spot in the Penguins’ top-six forward lineup – perhaps even on a line with Crosby – in the future.
“The one thing that Beau has is the ability to make plays and finish plays offensively in traffic,” Bylsma said. “He’s not necessarily a guy who’s going to race down the ice with his speed, but his hands, his ability to create space and the ability to get his shot off is fairly evident in seeing him both in practice, in drills and also on tape in some of the games that he’s played.
“So you see that in him and you envision that as a pro player. It’s a guy you see in a top-six role with that type of skill and ability. Where that is as a professional, we’re going to see this year in terms of him going pro.”
After posting 25 points (9G-16A) in 37 games as a freshman, Bennett began his sophomore campaign on a torrid pace with 13 points (4G-9A) in 10 games. But the California native’s sophomore campaign ended prematurely when he suffered a broken wrist in the beginning of the season.
“I felt awesome. I felt I was ready for the season and got off to a way better start than I did my freshman year, just knowing more of the ropes and how college how works,” Bennett said. “I think I was ready for the season but it’s just something that happens like this. It’s unfortunate but in the grand scheme of life it’s not that big of a deal. I want to get better but going to the children’s hospital (during camp), we’re pretty fortunate with what we have so a little wrist injury is not the biggest deal.”
For Bennett, watching his teammates out on the ice while he was sidelined with such a difficult injury was a tough experience – but there were still things to be taken away when watching off the ice.
“There’s a lot to be learned from being a spectator,” Bennett said. “You can see it from above the rink perspective. You can see different plays and how everything forms on the ice. It looks like there’s a lot more room out there than there actually is. I think even though I didn’t play that many games, I got better in the sense that understanding the game a little better.”
Bennett’s rehabilitation on his surgically repaired wrist though has gone well, and he will continue to train in California for the summer leading up to Penguins training camp in September.
A lot of Bennett’s offseason has been spent in the weight room with new trainer TR Goodman as he’s been adding muscle and better preparing his conditioning for the transition to the pros. It shows, as Bennett has gotten his weight up to 207 pounds – more than 30 pounds more than what he weighed when he was drafted in 2010.
“I’m going to ramp up,” Bennett 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.”
The winger’s play throughout camp was impressive, displaying an arsenal of dekes and crafty ways to get off his shot during the practices, skill sessions and scrimmage. Bennett left a good impression on some of the coaches, and they’re excited to see what he can do now that he’s in the pros.
“Beau Bennett, who we’ve drafted and is now turned pro, is a first-rounder who you hear a lot of good things about,” Byslma said. “He’s a high-end talented guy that is expected to be able to do that at some point in time and he’s turned pro here.”
With all the different scenarios floating around – like if he will be the piece to complement Crosby – Bennett’s focus remains on the prize: to put himself in the best situation possible in hopes of succeeding.
“I think there is an opportunity here,” Bennett said. “I would have loved to have won a national championship; that’s something you can share with your teammates for a really long time. I think right now though, (turning pro) was best for me at the time. Now going forward, I want to put myself in a spot where I can have an opportunity to maybe take that big step.”
Pouliot's Play Speaks for Itself
Friday, 07.20.2012 / 6:00 AM
Features By Michelle Crechiolo
Derrick Pouliot’s reputation preceded him before he first joined the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks as a 15-year-old back in early 2010, as the defenseman had been taken first overall in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft.
“That’s a big thing on our team. He was pretty special coming in,” Winterhawks teammate and fellow Penguins prospect Joe Morrow said with a laugh.
“He doesn’t seem like it, but everybody knows he’s pretty good. We called him ‘First Overall’ as a nickname for a while, but I don’t think he liked it very much. It fell apart pretty fast.”
That’s because Pouliot isn’t an arrogant teenager with a big ego. He’s a quiet, reserved 18-year-old from a small town in Saskatchewan who just happens to be extraordinarily talented at playing hockey.
The Penguins chose the defenseman with the No. 8 overall selection (acquired from Carolina as part of a draft day trade) in the 2012 NHL Draft here in Pittsburgh on June 22, and are excited about how the young prospect fits with the organization’s philosophies.
“Forwards are going to love playing with him,” Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “Pouliot is going to be that smooth, Brian Campbell-type of skater that can get you out of your end, be quick on our retrievals and put the puck on our forward's sticks.”
Pouliot named his skating, vision and puck movement as his strengths, adding that after a week of seeing the Penguins’ on-ice style of play at this year’s prospect development camp, he feels that he’s going to fit right in.
“It makes a lot of sense,” he said. “I think it complements how I play quite well. I’m more of an offensive-minded defenseman and like to get up into the play, move the puck, stuff like that. I like it a lot.”
The Winterhawks advanced all the way to the league final for the second-straight season before falling in seven games to the Edmonton Oil Kings, and Pouliot finished the postseason tied with Morrow for the most points among WHL blueliners with 17 points (3G-14A) in 22 games.
Pouliot, who played alongside Morrow on Portland’s first power-play unit this past year, ranked second among Winterhawks defensemen behind Morrow with 59 points (11G-48A) in 72 regular-season games.
But despite his impressive numbers, Pouliot said he got stronger in his own end this past season.
“I didn’t start out on the PK, but as the season went on I gradually got more time there,” he said. “I played first PP this year, so still more of an offensive role, but I jumped into a defensive role and hopefully I can do that again this year.”
After being educated all of last week on what it takes to be a Pittsburgh Penguin, Pouliot – who roomed with Simon Despres at camp – knows he has a lot of work to do this summer heading into the 2012-13 campaign, starting with making his 5-foot-11, 195-pound frame more powerful.
“I want to have good workouts this summer and come into camp ready and hopefully push for a spot on the team here,” he said. “If I need to go back to juniors for another year I’ll be happy to do that and develop. World Juniors is high on my priority list. If I go back to juniors I want to have a good first half of the season, get an invite to the December camp and hopefully make that team.”
Getting to Know Derrick Pouliot
Friday, 07.20.2012 / 6:00 AM
Features By Michelle Crechiolo
We did a sit-down interview with Penguins prospect Derrick Pouliot last week at development camp, and since I couldn’t squeeze all of his answers into the feature I wrote, I put together a separate “Getting to Know You” type of piece to include all his other answers – and a few other goodies.
Favorite NHL team growing up: Colorado Avalanche. “They had big goons back then and they were a good team.”
Favorite NHL player: Drew Doughty
Pump-up music or artist: “Anything that’s on at the gym I go to. They have Sirius Hits 1 playing.”
Favorite video game: Call of Duty
Favorite TV show: Big Bang Theory
Favorite movie(s): “Bridesmaids is one of my favorites. Or anything that has Will Ferrell in it.”
Favorite off-ice activity: Relax!
Favorite food: Sushi
Favorite restaurant: Fuji’s in Portland, Oregon (a sushi bar)
Favorite non-hockey playing athlete: Tom Brady or Tiger Woods
Favorite sport besides hockey: Golf
Siblings: A younger brother (Nicholas) and a younger sister (Janelle)
MORE IN-DEPTH Q&A…
Q. Now that you’ve been in the city for a few days, what do you think of Pittsburgh and the Penguins’ facilities here at CONSOL Energy Center?
A. The city’s really nice. It’s a little bit like Portland, actually, where I played last year. It has a little bit of an older downtown, it seems like, but everything is really nice. The CONSOL Energy Center here is just unbelievable. It’s a really amazing facility and it’s a top-notch organization here.
Q. What’s it like living and playing in Oregon?
A. It’s lots of fun. It’s actually not too big of a hockey city. They’ve got an NBA team and a soccer team there. But our fans are starting to come back. We had a couple good seasons and it’s a really nice place. It’s always green, doesn’t get too cold in the winter so it’s pretty good to be there.
Q. Looking back, how cool was it to get drafted in the city and in the arena that you’ll play in someday, especially the way it went down as part of a trade?
A. It was really an exciting experience. It’s something that doesn’t happen too often or to too many people. So I was very, very excited when my name got calledthere, and that trade was obviously a big one there. So I was extremely honored and very excited.
Q. This is your first development camp. Overall, what do you think?
A. I like it. I like it a lot. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect coming in, but everything has been really good so far. All the instruction, what they’ve been teaching us, it’s all been first-class. You can tell that this is a really good organization.
Q. Does it help having a junior teammate in Joe Morrow here with you?
A. A little bit. Coming in, you’re a little nervous at first. You don’t know anybody. Having that one person that’s been through it once already and has played with you a couple years just makes you feel a little more at ease.
Q. Was it kind of cool for you to be on the ice with all the other talented defensive prospects during the defense-only session?
A. It was. Those are all guys you’re competing against and there’s a lot of them, so you’ve got to go all out each day and prove yourself and work your hardest. They’re doing that too, so it’s good competition.
Q. You guys advanced all the way to the league championship, where you lost in Game 7 to the Oil Kings. What was that run like?
A. It was really good. Two years in a row, making it to the Final like that doesn’t happen too often in junior hockey. It’s something special. We had an excellent team and fell one game short, but it was still a really good season and it was a lot of fun.
Q. I know Portland has one of the strongest back ends in the CHL. How did playing with so much talent help you develop?
A. It’s helped a lot. I’ve been pretty fortunate to get into that organization right when they turned it around with the ownership and the new staff. Mike Johnson and Travis Green, those two guys are unbelievable. Top notch in the league there. It’s been pretty fortunate for me.
At a Glance: Seymour and Zlobin
Friday, 07.27.2012 / 6:00 AM
Features By Greg Fernandez
With their final two picks in the NHL Draft, the Penguins selected defensive defenseman Clark Seymour and quick, goal-scoring forward Anton Zlobin.
Here’s a quick inside look on what the players will be doing this summer.
A stay-at-home defenseman, Clark Seymour was selected by the Penguins in the fifth round (143rd overall) at the 2012 NHL Draft. The rugged 6-foot-4, 205-pound blueliner has a physical edge to his game.
“He plays a hard, physical game,” assistant director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton said. “Clark Seymour is a denter. He leaves dents in people.”
“I had a big summer last year,” Seymour said. “I gained some confidence and worked hard on my fitness and my skill. Going into the season I had a lot of confidence. I had a few unfortunate injuries that set me back. Once I was back in the line up, I was confident and thought I played pretty well.”
With another season with Peterborough of the Ontario Hockey League in store for the physical defenseman, Seymour will look to continue to improve on his defensive capabilities.
“Being consistent is one of my biggest problems,” Seymour said. “I just want to keep up my consistency, obviously work on my footwork, my speed and my skill.”
Anton Zlobin went undrafted at the 2011 NHL Draft, overlooked by all 30 NHL teams. The forward returned to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with a staggering response, leading the Shawinigan Cataractes in goals (40) and points (76) and almost single-handedly delivered a Memorial Cup championship in the 2011-12 season.
“I think I just started practicing harder,” Zlobin said. “I did more work in the defensive zone, working on my shots. I think it’s helped me play better in my second season.”
Zlobin was a crucial offensive component during the Cataractes Memorial Cup run, scoring five goals in the tournament.
In the Memorial Cup Final, Zlobin scored both Cataractes’ goals, including the overtime Cup-winner, in a 2-1 victory over the London Knights.
The Penguins called Zlobin’s name with the 173rd overall pick (sixth round), his offensive upside coming into play that late in the draft. He will play next season with Val-d’Or Foreurs after they acquired him in a trade from the Cataractes. Playing with his new team, Zlobin will continue to hone his game while playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“In QJMHL I only played on the power play,” Zlobin said. “I need to learn how to play in penalty kill. I think I need to skate harder and shoot more.”
Sundqvist Combines Physicality with Scoring Touch
Monday, 07.30.2012 / 6:00 AM
Features By Greg Fernandez
Though Oskar Sundqvist was an unknown commodity to many Penguins hockey fans during the 2012 NHL Draft, he was coveted by Pittsburgh’s management – who couldn’t be happier that they were able to draft the Swedish-born center in Round 3.
“Sundqvist slipped through cracks, which we’re delighted with,” Penguins assistant director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton said at the time. “We got him in the spot we thought we would, but we weren’t sure he would be there. We’re pretty pleased with that.”
Drafted 81st overall by the hometown Penguins, Sundqvist is a big-bodied center who plays a hard-nosed physical style, using his rangy 6-foot-3, 172-pound frame to his advantage.
“I’m a big player,” Sundqvist said. “I always work hard and give it all for my team. I’m always been good at the role I play and I work as hard as I can every practice and game.”
Throughout Penguins development camp earlier this month, the center constantly used his body to his advantage in drills, shielding opponents away from the puck with his frame.
After every drill, Sundqvist was constantly smiling and enjoying himself the best way he can. But while he may be fun-loving and carefree on and off the ice, when it comes to game time, he turns on the competitive edge and a fierceness that made him a coveted player.
“It was really fun. More than I expected actually,” Sundqvist said of camp. “I was pretty nervous from the beginning. I think it went better and better every day and I’m really happy I came here.”
Although physicality is one of his greatest strengths, Sundqvist also displayed an adept scoring touch for Skelleftea Jr. of the Swedish Elite League during the 2011-12 season, scoring 22 goals and posting 54 points in 41 combined games. Despite that, he knows he still needs to improve in other aspects of his game.
“Definitely my skating,” Sundqvist said. “I talked to (Marianne Watkins – skating consultant) and she’s going to talk me through it and practice on stuff like that. It’s great that you can go and talk to someone if you need to. She taught me stuff that I’ve never done before.”
For Sundqvist, playing in an NHL-size area during camp was somewhat of an adjustment for him. The rinks in Europe are normally bigger, so he had to remind himself that he was playing on a smaller space at times throughout the week.
“I didn’t notice before until I was skating backwards,” he said laughing. “It began to feel little to me. Smaller than I’m used to having in Sweden.”
This next season, Sundqvist will continue to play for Skelleftea, a team that has taken him and made him feel at home – just like Pittsburgh has.
“I’m definitely staying (with Skelleftea) this year, that’s for sure,” Sundqvist said. “It’s the best decision for me I think because Skelleftea has helped me so much. I feel like Skelleftea and Penguins are kind of the same. They care about the players and stuff like that. It’s wonderful, actually.”