It may be the middle of summer and just over a month since the Pittsburgh Penguins have raised the Stanley Cup -- but if you can believe it, it's almost time for them to lace ‘em up again. Next week a host of prospects, varying in age from 17 - 25 will meet up in Pittsburgh for the annual "Prospect Conditioning Camp".
It'll be more than just doing skating drills and getting a chance to impress the brass, off-ice activities might be the most important and beneficial part of the camp. As the Post-Gazette had an article about the camp explaining the Pittsburgh way:
After orientation Monday night -- "For some of them it's their first introduction to the Pittsburgh organization, so we'll be telling them that we go about things with a certain pride, a certain passion, a certain work ethic," [new WB/S head coach Todd] Reirden said.
"We'll have team-building exercises, creating situations where they are starting to feel connected," Reirden said. "One of the things we've got is a scavenger hunt set up to get them out in Pittsburgh and let them get to know the area a little bit."
So whether a player was just drafted a couple weeks ago, or has been in a college program for a few years, it's a good chance to show Pittsburgh brass exactly where they stand. Other than just the stars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal the Penguins have fast-tracked guys like Kris Letang and Tyler Kennedy to the NHL in recent years. If you have the talent, skill and a good head on your shoulders you can make it. Being in shape doesn't hurt either to turn a few heads in the heat of summer.
After the jump a look at who will be there and a short analysis of each prospect participating:
Players' current age in parenthesis, players roughly listed in order of those closest to making the NHL impact:
As a group, the forwards are big and stocked with wingers with scoring potential. Of course, potential alone never scored a single goal in the NHL, so there's work to be done developmentally. Although green, a few of these guys have a good chance of wearing a Pittsburgh sweater this season, probably as injury call-ups
Dustin Jeffrey (21) -- Played 14 games in the NHL last season [1g, 2a] as an injury replacement. Pittsburgh is heavy on forwards so should start the season in Wilkes-Barre. Could stand to increase point production in the minors but did score 10 points in 12 playoff games for the Baby Pens this spring.
Luca Caputi (20)- Played 5 games in the NHL last season [1g, 0a]. At 6'3, 190 has good size and skill [45 points in 66 AHL games as a first year pro]. Caputi needs to continue to grow up - both physically in building his frame and through his actions, as he was sent to the ECHL for breaking team rules as well as benched for periods/games at a time for unspecified violations. Boys will be boys but at some point you have to act like a pro.
Eric Tangradi (20)- Had surgery to repair a ttorn wrist tendon a 9-10 weeks ago surprising to see him participate. May be the Pens brightest forward prospect but still is raw and untested as a professional, so needs the immersion to the pro game.
Nick Johnson (23)- Johnson's a former 3rd round pick from 2004 who did four years at Dartmouth and worked his way through his first professional season last year. He's obviously a little long in the tooth but figures to be a Top 6 forward in Wilkes-Barre this year. At 6'2, 200 Johnson has good size, needs to continue to improve his all-around game.
Joe Vitale (23)- Another somewhat forgotten prospect who played four years at Northeastern, former 7th round pick Joe Vitale has drawn comparisons to mix of Tyler Kennedy and Max Talbot as a player. This will be his first full professional season to prove that he is willing (and able) to do all the little things that have made TK and Talbot NHL regulars.
Casey Pierro-Zabotel (20) - An intriguing prospect, "CPZ" took a wwinding road in his pre-professional career The reigning WHL scoring champion will have to prove his mettle against a level of competition older and stronger than himself, something he hasn't had to face in quite some time.
Keven Veilleux (20)- At 6'5, 215 Veilleux, a 2nd round pick, is a monster of a player. He only played in 28 games last year in the QMJHL but put up an eye-popping 48 points [15g, 33a]. A knock on him has been in-game focus and consistency, so this camp might be an eye opener for him.
Nathan Moon (19)- Moon had an up and down year on a bottom dwelling junior team, where he was the leading scorer and best player. A trip to Penguins camp against bigger, stronger, better players ought to do him a world of good to show him how far he needs to go and how to work to get there.
Joey Haddad (20)- Haddad went undrafted from the Q but opened the eyes of scouts and earned a contract from Pittsburgh. This camp is his first chance to compete in the Pens organization and he ought to be set to make the AHL roster with a pair of strong summer/fall camps.
Ben Hanowski (18) - This year's 3rd round pick, Hanowski is the all-time leading scorer in Minnesota high school history. He's said to have sick hands but not the best skating ability, so getting in this camp with more polished players ought to be good for him before heading off to St. Cloud State this fall.
Nick Petersen (20) - This year's 4th round pick, Petersen has good size (6'2, 185) and exhibited a nice scoring touch in the Q this season with 90 points in 68 games.
Andy Bathgate (18) - 2009's 5th round pick, Bathgate had a rough first season in Juniors, but most players do. This upcoming year is very critical for his development, if he can stay healthy and put up points he could be on his way to a pro career. This camp should give him the chance to build up momentum for that.
Nathan Longpre (21)- Was Robert Morris' 2nd highest scorer last season, is he a home-town invite (aka camp fodder) or a decent professional prospect?
Zack Sill (21) - Camp invite and an interesting one: Sill didn't put up huge numbers in the offensive minded Q (just 50 points in his last 124 games) and his hockeydb profile lists his size as an average 6'0, 200.
In a word, the defense is big. Several players are 6'3-6'4 and most of them are players with simple games. But with offensive minded youngsters like Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski already in the NHL, the Penguins organizational need for reliable, defensive minded defensemen is there. But it'll be in the future before most of these guys will contribute in the NHL.
Brian Strait (21) - Could have been the captain of defending national champion Boston U, but instead chose to turn pro and sign with Pittsburgh. Strait played the role of being the reliable, defensive minded partner to Hobey Baker winner Matt Gilroy last season. Though he figures to spend much of the year in Wilkes-Barre one look at the Pens UFA defensemen to be (Gonchar, Eaton, McKee) shows that Strait may make it to the show sooner than later if he proves himself at the AHL level.
Jon D'Aversa (23) - Kind of like Rob Scuderi, D'Aversa has slowly kept improving. First he went undrafted but latched on with the Pens, then he spent a year shuffling back between the ECHL and AHL, then last season he worked his way into becoming a mainstay on a solid AHL team. Can he keep the improvement and steady play going?
Simon Despres (17)-This year's first round pick, Despres will get the time his game needs to develop back in juniors. Still, at 6'4 205 and with good skating ability, Despres has all the tools to oneday be a solid NHL level defenseman. This camp is merely the first step in that long journey.
Robert Bortuzzo (20) - At 6'4, 205 the right-handed shooting Bortuzzo is another defensive minded defensemen that won't put up big numbers or lead a power-play but will play positionally well, make a hit and look to keep it simple when he has the puck. A former 3rd round pick, Bortuzzo will be making the jump to the professional game this season, how will he handle that learning curve as well as fitting into a deep organization?
Carl Sneep (21) - Sneep, another right handed shot, is going into his senior year at Boston College, is much like the other Penguin defensemen prospects. He's big (6'3, 205), can skate well but isn't an explosive or terribly offensive minded.
Alex Grant (20) - A 4th round pick in 2007, Grant has a heavy shot and a puck moving defenseman, as his scored 98 points in his last 130 junior games might indicate. Grant has 40 goals in his past three junior seasons, so willingness to shoot isn't a problem for him.
Lane Caffaro (25) - Undrafted, Caffaro just finished four years at Union College. He had 164 PIMs in his first two collegiate seasons (just 64 games) so he might be a feisty player. How he can adjust this year professionally to playing 82 games a year will go a long way in determining the length of his career.
Denny Urban (21) - A Pittsburgh player that goes to Robert Morris, the undrafted Urban has 48 points in 66 collegiate games which seems to indicate good hands and ability to move the puck. Hockeydb lists him as 5'10 and 170 which, if accurate, would make him among the smallest players in camp.
Nick D'Agostino (19) - A very raw player, D'Agostino (this year's 7th round pick) played in Junior-A this past season. This camp will really raise the bar on what competition he's seen and been around, hopefully he soaks it all in.
Alex Velischek (18) - Pittsburgh's 5th round pick this year, other than that see the comments on D'Agostino above.
When an organization has a Stanley Cup winning goalie shy of his 25th birthday locked up for the next six seasons contractually, you obviously don't expect them to spend too much time or attention here. And the Penguins haven't drafted a goalie higher than the 5th round since they selected Marc-Andre Fleury back in 2003. Still, they've had luck attracting and developing undrafted free agents (like John Curry and Brad Thiessen) to keep the pipeline rolling.
Brad Thiessen (23) - Undrafted goalie, spent three years at Northeastern really having a breakout year last season becoming a Hobey Baker finalist and chose to sign with Pittsburgh. He was along for the ride with Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh's playoff runs, so he has the best idea (along with Jeffrey) amongst any prospect of what it takes. As of now, Thiessen is #3 on Pittsburgh's goaltender depth chart, though the Pens may sign another netminder before the season begins, Thiessen figures to get a lot of playing time in the AHL in his first professional season.
Patrick Killeen (19) - Killeen, a 6th round pick in 2008, has a chance to show what he's got and make a name for himself as a goalie before heading back to the OHL
If you've got any observations, put 'em in the comments. Particularly interesting will be if you've actually seen any of these young players in action live and in person. Anything that I missed, botched or exaggerated?