Where is the Cavalry? Part 1
The Pittsburgh Penguins are known for being a high scoring team with two of the best players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. General Manager Ray Shero has done a good job surrounding the two superstars with talented complementary players like James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and Pascal Dupuis.
Neal, Kunitz, and Dupuis are all excellent players for the Penguins but they were all brought to the Penguins via trade. In fact, the Penguins only forwards on their roster that are home grown are Crosby, Malkin, Tyler Kennedy, and Joe Vitale. Only Vitale was drafted by Shero.
So where are the reinforcements? Where is the next wave of young forward talent to bolster the NHL roster?
WARNING: The following may be disturbing to some readers.
Jordan Staal (2006): NHL – Excellent NHL player – TRADED
Angelo Esposito (2007): Italy – Huge bust but he left Pgh before that – TRADED and BUST
Keven Veilleux (2007): ECHL – Constantly injured and currently suspended – LIKELY BUST
Casey Pierro-Zabotel (2007): ECHL – Couldn’t skate at AHL level – BUST
Luca Caputi (2007): AHL/ECHL – 9 points in 35 NHL games for Penguins and Maple Leafs – TRADED and BUST
Dustin Jeffrey (2007): NHL – 21 points in 67 NHL games, very little top 6 time though – POSSIBLE NHL PLAYER
Nathan Moon (2008): ECHL – wasn’t even offered a contract by the Penguins – BUST
Ben Hanowski (2009): NCAA – senior at St. Cloud has goal scoring ability but he’s still a project – WAIT AND SEE
Nick Petersen (2009): AHL/ECHL – Played parts of two seasons in Penguin organization before he was released – BUST
Andy Bathgate (2009): OUAA – Not offered a contract by the Pens after Juniors – BUST
Now that is a travesty. Shero drafted 10 forwards between 2006-2009 and the only players on the list with NHL potential outside Staal are Jeffrey – a player struggling to stay in the NHL lineup – and Hanowski – an offensively gifted player with a long road ahead of him.
If you look around the NHL, even around the division, there are teams that have young forwards contributing to the NHL roster and out producing their contracts and giving their teams great value. For example, look at Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin for the New York Rangers last season. Hagelin was an integral part of their team as a rookie last year and Kreider stepped right into a top 6 in the role in the playoffs fresh out of college.
There’s no denying Shero and his staff are good at identifying defensive talent but at some point the team needs to develop its own forwards. The focus on defense in the draft stems from Shero’s time in Nashville, the defenseman factory, but even Nashville has developed their own forwards since 2006 (Blake Geoffrion, Nick Spaling, Colin Wilson, Gabriel Bourque, Craig Smith – all NHL players and Zach Budish, Taylor Beck, and Michael Latta all have NHL upside as well).
The Penguins though have wasted many of their draft picks during this time on forwards that haven’t panned out. More recently, they have had some better luck in later rounds but the focus on defense has cost the Penguins some serious forward talent and we are seeing the effects on the NHL roster in the form of the giant hole on the Malkin and Neal line.
In Part 2, we will examine the Penguins more recent draft picks at forward and the two players that have a chance to contribute soon – Beau Bennett and everyone’s favorite whipping boy Eric Tangradi.