The Pittsburgh Penguins have signed forward Casey Pierro-Zabotel to a three-year entry-level contract through 2012, it was announced today by Executive Vice President and General Manager Ray Shero. Zabotel will report to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League (AHL).
Pierro-Zabotel is ranked by Hockey's Future as the #4 prospect in the Penguins' organization. CPZ could have been a free agent (think: Blake Wheeler) if he did not sign with the Pens before the summer started, so the fact that Pittsburgh was able to get him taken care of now that his junior career is over is a huge feather in the hat for the team.
Pierro-Zabotel is a very interesting prospect. CPZ is one of a troika of power-forward prospects--along with Luca Caputi and Eric Tangradi--that Pittsburgh is hoping can one-day develop into being top 6 NHL forwards to ride shotgun with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Pierro-Zabotel was drafted in the 3rd round in 2007 80th overall by the Penguins.
CPZ did not take the "normal" Canadian junior route to become a professional. Prior to his draft year, he played in the lower tier BCHL and clearly out-shined everyone scoring (except top prospect Kyle Turris) by putting up a Mario Lemieux-esque 116 points (51 goals, 65 assists) in just 55 games in the BCHL. Pierro-Zabotel intended to go to college, but he didn't make the grades to get eligible at Michigan Tech Univeristy, so he instead headed off to the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
Pierro-Zabotel would continue his statistical dominance in the WHL, winning the Bob Clarke Trophy [yes named after that Bobby Clarke] as the league's leading scorer with 115 points (36g, 79a) in 72 games. It should be pointed out though, that Pierro-Zabotel played in the WHL as a 19 and 20 year old against competition that included younger players again.
Now that he's a pro, Pierro-Zabotel will finally be playing up to the competition and won't be able to take advantage anymore of being superior to his opponents in age, size and skill. Also, CPZ had a linemate in Evander Kane who is expected to be a top draft pick in this summer's draft. Sometimes in juniors a player can reap the rewards from having another very talented linemate which can inflate stats.
Baby Pens beat writer Jonathan Bombulie thinks that it might not be a shock if CPZ can jump right into Wilkes-Barre's lineup this weekend for their ongoing playoff series against the Hershey Bears....The Baby Pens could use the offensive punch, as they are losing their series to Washington's affiliate 2 games to 0, just like their NHL comrades.
Pierro-Zabotel is probably going to be a boom or bust prospect. It'll be interesting to see how his transition goes this spring as well as his long-term progress towards becoming a legit NHL player.