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Penguins hire host of new scouts to add to hockey operations department

A handful of new scouts hired today by the Pens

2020 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Ryan Yorgen/NHLI via Getty Images

The Penguins announced a bunch of new hires for their hockey operations department today. From a team press release:

The Pittsburgh Penguins have hired Will Acton and Kerry Huffman as professional scouts, Brett Hextall as an integrated development coach, Alexander Khavanov as a European amateur scout, and Matt Mangene as an amateur free agent scout, it was announced today by general manager Ron Hextall.

Acton, 33, joins the Penguins organization as a pro scout after a nine-year professional career split between the National Hockey League, American Hockey League and DEL, Germany’s top professional league. The Edina, MN native recorded five points (3G-2A) in 33 career NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers and finished out his playing career in Germany from 2015-20. Acton is the son of 14-year NHL veteran and former NHL coach Keith Acton. With the Penguins, Acton will scout players in the NHL and AHL, and report to director of professional scouting Ryan Bowness.

Huffman, 53, is also joining the organization as a pro scout after serving as an assistant coach for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms over the past five seasons (2016-21). The Peterborough, ON native played 401 NHL games over a 10-year professional career as a defenseman from 1987-96, recording 145 points (37G-108A) with Philadelphia, Quebec and Ottawa. Huffman was teammates with Hextall in Philadelphia from 1987-92 and ‘96, as well as in Quebec in ‘92-93. As a pro scout, Huffman will scout players in the NHL and AHL, and also report to Bowness.

Brett Hextall, son of general manager Ron Hextall, joins the Penguins as an integrated development coach after most recently serving as a development coach for the Philadelphia Flyers from 2017-20. Hextall, 33, played four seasons as a forward in the AHL with Portland and Lehigh Valley from 2011-15, recording 67 points (33G-34A) in 260 games. In his new role, Hextall will work with Pittsburgh’s players at the AHL level as well as other prospects in the Penguins’ system, and will report to director of player development Scott Young.

The Penguins have added Khavanov, 49, to their European amateur scouting staff. A native of Moskva, Russia, Khavanov played 15 years of professional hockey in the NHL and Russia. The 49-year old former defenseman played with the St. Louis Blues (2000-04) and Toronto Maple Leafs (2005-06) and recorded 102 points (27G-75A) in 348 career NHL games. Khavanov will scout draft-eligible prospects as well as free agents in Russia, and will report to director of player personnel Chris Pryor.

Mangene, 32, joins the Penguins’ amateur scouting staff after a nine-year professional playing career. The Manorville, NY native played eight seasons split between the AHL and ECHL from 2012-20, and ended his playing career in Austria in 2020-21 with Villacher SV of the ICEHL. Mangene will scout draft-eligible players in North America, and will also report to Pryor.

A lot of these hires are either new, younger scouts transitioning from a playing career (Acton, Mangene) or more with obvious ties to Ron Hextall (Huffman, Brett Hextall).

One of the more interesting names is Khavanov. The Penguins have all but ignored Russia in modern times under the previous general managers of Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford. That may not sound quite right, since you know, Evgeni Malkin exists and all, but Malkin (drafted by Craig Patrick) is very much the exception to the rule.

Since Malkin’s draft in 2004, Pittsburgh as only selected one player trained in Russia on the over 100+ they’ve drafted — that being goalie Alexander Pechurskiy in 2008. Pechurskiy famously made one cameo appearance in the NHL as an emergency call-up and then was never seen in the North American pro ranks again.

The Pens have not dedicated a lot of resources to scouting and showing all that much interest in Russia. Which isn’t to say they’ve never had Russian scouts and they’ve certainly been present at the major international tournaments where Russia has been, but Khavanov’s hiring by Hextall shows that might change in the near future, or at least the organization will be casting a wider net to look in areas that they haven’t been so active in past regimes. Time will tell if that strategy pans out or brings in NHL caliber talent, but it a sure sign of some of the changes and new plans that Ron Hextall will have for the Penguins.