Pittsburgh Penguins prospect camp closed out yesterday afternoon. I meant to toss this post up later in the evening, but I didn't want to bump down Alex Sitch's take on the prospects game. I figured with the flow of stories and information this offseason (especially this time of year) we could afford to wait one more day on this.
With that said, let's take a look at some of the prospects who were turning heads over the final weekend of camp.It's fun to see how prospect camp literally varies for each player in attendance. For a guy like Eric Tangradi, it's a chance to show he still has what it takes to be considered for the starting lineup. For guys like Simon Despres, Tom Kuhnhackl, Philip Samuelsson and Beau Bennett, it's "hey, don't forget about me" moment for them to gain more valuable experience with the Penguins' front office. And then, for a guy like Joe Morrow, it's an opportunity to step onto NHL ice only weeks after being selected by the Penguins.
Shelly Anderson at the Post-Gazette printed a few words from Morrow in her Penguins notebook:
"I just picked up a lot on the game speed, how powerful everyone was. You're not the strongest kid when you come into camp anymore like when you went to junior camp. It was a little bit eye-opening. It was fun to see. It kind of gives you a mark to work toward, and you can gauge yourself against everybody else."
Apparently Kuhnhackl struggled a bit to find a nice balance between his physical and offensive game. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, he could probably afford to put on a little more size during his climb up each rung of the Penguins' ladder. But if there's one constant credit to his game it's his speed, footwork and his growing interest in working on his trick moves and handwork:
Kuhnhackl also grew up idolizing the Penguins because of stars such as Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Sidney Crosby. Yet he might be most reminiscent of another current star, Evgeni Malkin, because of his similar build (although he could end up thicker than Malkin), his skating style and his ability to make the puck dance on his stick.
There was a funny twist/reminiscent moment for Penguins fans in Sunday's prospect scrimmage. While a number of Penguins draft picks competed in camp for a roster spot or to work on their skills sets a bit, one attendee had loose ties to the team already. Sean Whitney, the 21-year-old brother of former Pen Ryan Whitney, skated with the Pens during the scrimmage as an undrafted free agent. No word yet on whether his game was "soff" or not, but I'm sure Alex Stitch could provide a little more insight into that.
Dan Bylsma had nothing but positive things to say about 2010 First-Rounder Bennett. If anything Bennett's transformation from "kid" to...well, "older kid" is taking off nicely. He's added size, speed and stick work to his repertoire and the Pens are starting to notice:
"He's a year more mature physically, and that's an area he needs to continue to work on -- his strength and his power," Bylsma said. "You see that now, the size he is on the ice vs. the tall, slender kind of kid he was when we got him and he was 18 years old."
Future plans for Bennett remain uncertain, but there is still plenty of room for growth on his end. According to a other comments in that article, you get the impression that the Pens may be looking use Bennett as a player who can park his skates in front of the opposing team's net and play for the dirty goals. This isn't exactly an area the Pens have been dominant in over the past few years. Sure, you get guys like Pascal Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy snagging a few dirty goals, and maybe Mike Rupp was the sort of guy who could've pulled off this feat more than he actually did, but both Dupuis and TK are praised more for their ability to generate a play with their feet and put the puck on net. Bennett isn't necessarily hailed as a sniper, but he's learning how to use his frame to generate the best shot. And perhaps one of the most admirable features of his game extends off the ice, where he continues to push himself harder and harder in an effort to force the Pens into making either a tough decision next spring, or an obvious one.
Overall it looks like the Pens wrapped up another pretty successful prospects camp. It'll be interesting to see who, if any (outside of Tangradi), gets an invite to training camp when the doors open up in another month or so. It's safe to say we'll see a few names there. If I had to guess I'd go with: Despres, Alex Grant, Nick Petersen, Keven Veilleux and maybe Patrick Killeen between the pipes.