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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Drafting Penguins With Some Experts by @ChicksDigHockey

It’s NHL draft time; The last bit of league business before free agency and summer break. It’s a time of great anxiety for hockey hopefuls and a time of anticipation for the 30 NHL teams.
I admit, as intrigued as I am with the draft process and the overall selection strategy, I don’t know much about the candidates themselves. What do you do when you want to be prepared for something like the draft but have no time to research it? 

You go to the experts. 

That’s exactly what I did. I asked five friends who I consider to be great hockey minds to help me. Since this is the first test of the Penguins’ administrative team (with or without a head coach), I thought my friends could offer a little help by weighing in on who they would like to see our new GM pick. More accurately, who would be their first three picks if they were at the Pens' table. 

First, I turned to Puck Podcast Draft Expert Mike Murangi. I’ve known Mike for two years, and his draft savvy is widely regarded.  He would like to see the Penguins draft: 

1 Thatcher Demko, G
2 Julias Honka, D
3 Ivan Barbashev, C

Mike was busy getting ready to attend the draft but sent me his notes:
Demko fills goaltending need.
Honka. Perfect replacment for Letang if anything happens.
Barbashev fills third-line role with offensive talent and amazing hands. 

The Trib's Penguins beat reporter Josh Yohe is in the thick of things as far as Pittsburgh’s off-season dilemmas go. I love to talk hockey with Josh, he's so bright and so funny. I asked him what he thought of the Pens’ draft situation in general under Rutherford:

“We all know the Penguins are blessed with an abundance of blue line talent in their system, while their forwards at the minor league and junior levels are unappealing. It’s time for a philosophical change, and the Penguins know it. Look for new general manager Jim Rutherford to immediately address the Penguins’ shortage of talented, young forwards. It’s a below average draft for defensemen, which should suit the Penguins just fine. It’s time for them to get forwards, especially wingers.”

Here’s Yohe’s look at look at three prospects that figure to intrigue Rutherford and the Penguins:

Brendan Lemieux, left wing, Barrie (OHL) If mock drafts and projections can be believed, Lemieux should still be available when the Penguins pick at No. 22. While his lack of size and eye-popping skill might make him a reach here, the intangibles he possesses are something the Penguins could badly use. Lemieux is the son of former NHL standout Claude Lemieux, and in the minds of many, he is remarkably similar to his old man. Claude Lemieux scored clutch goals like few forwards in his era, always played on winning teams, was fearless, physical and dirty. He was hated by the opposition, but loved by his teammates, the kind of guy who would literally do anything to win a hockey game. Doesn’t this sound like someone the Penguins could use in their system? I think so. The Penguins have been far too soft for far too long. There is nothing soft about this kid. 
Brendan Perlini, left wing, Niagara (OHL) On the surface, Perlini probably isn’t what the Penguins need. Many scouts believe he possesses more style and substance, something that has become far too common in Pittsburgh. But still, the Penguins must consider this guy if he is available at the 22nd slot. He is a top-10 talent, and could be drafted much earlier than the Penguins’ selection. However, numerous scouts I’ve spoken with in recent weeks have indicated that Perlini’s stock is falling because teams simply don’t trust him. He’s enigmatic, streaky and unpredictable. Some games, he’s the best player on the ice. Other games, you don’t notice him. So, maybe he would be a risk, especially for a team in the top 15. But this isn’t a great draft, and the Penguins desperately need an infusion of forward talent into their system. This guy has talent. He’s 6-2, will probably weight around 220 pounds when he fills out, and is a natural goal-scorer. His talent might be too tantalizing to pass up if he’s available. 
Ivan Barbashev, left wing, Moncton (QMJHL) I like this guy a lot. In the World Junior tournament and in the Q, Barbashev has been really impressive. He defeats the stereotypes of many Russian players. This guy doesn’t float, doesn’t avoid defensive responsibilities and doesn’t shy away from contact. In fact, he initiates it. Scouts really, really love this kid because he feels so safe. He’s an honest hockey player who possesses legitimate NHL talent. He doesn’t translate into being a 40-goal scorer, but really, this draft isn’t exactly loaded with those types. This simply is a player who has the look of a reliable, two-way scorer who can kill penalties, play defense and pop in 20 goals per season. Do the Penguins have many of those types in their system? Obviously, no. It’s difficult to project if he will be available, and anytime a Russian player is being considered, KHL rumors will arise. But this still strikes me as an intelligent, safe pick.

Jesse Marshall, Owner/operator of Faceoff Factor as well as contributor to TribLive.com hockey, is another friend with an amazing knowledge of all things draft. Jesse and I bonded over a mutual love of Advanced Stats…..love, hate…there’s a fine line between the two. Anyway, I asked him for his three picks for GMJR to consider and here’s what he came up with: 

Nikita Scherbak, RW, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)  I drool at the idea of Geno teaching this kid the ropes. Scherbak has elite everything. His hands are electric, he's fantastic at handling the puck in traffic, and he plays with a nice edge to his game. His shot is a laser beam and he is equally as effective at setting up the play. He's got some improvements to makes away from the puck but proved to be extremely coachable this season. He projects as a dynamic winger who is an excellent compliment to a world class center. 
Nikolay Goldobin, RW, Sarnia Sting (OHL)   Goldobin fits the Penguins needs at forward pretty well. He's an excellent skater and is super flashy with the puck on his stick. He's capable of distributing the puck or taking defensemen one on one. He has a deep bag of tricks and is extremely consistent in finding the scoresheet. His shot is elite and he can really wind the pace of the play up with his offensive approach to the game. Needs to bulk up, but has all the tools for success. 
Alex Tuch, C/W, USNDTP  Probably a long shot that he'll fall to 22 overall, but this kid is a powerful forward with good wheels and a penchant for getting to the net. The USNTDP product has a high hockey IQ, a great shot, and an excellent work ethic.

My next expert is also one of my all-time favorite Twitter friends, Ian Altenbaugh, Penguins writer and Eastern Conference Editor for Hockey’s Future.  Ian is a true student of the game and works hard to know the draftees as well as some scouts. If Ian could draft for the Pens, here’s who he’d take: 

Adrian Kempe, C/LW, MODO (SHL) Adrian Kempe is a fast, physical forward who spent the 2013-14 season playing against men in Sweden. He is active in all three zones of the ice and plays with a mean streak that is difficult to teach. Kempe seems to play his most effective hockey in high traffic, high contact areas of the ice and can be quite vicious competing for pucks around the net.
There are some questions over Kempe’s offensive upside. He played mostly on the third or fourth line for MODO and was relied on more to push the pace on the forecheck than to be a regular offensive contributor. His skating is top-notch however, and combined with a hard shot and a willingness to drive towards the net, he has the potential to be a promising complementary forward. His skill package would be particularly appealing to a Penguins team which is trying to emphasize speed, grit, and puck possession.
Nikita Scherbak, RW, Sakatoon Blades (WHL)  A lot of ink has been spent on Nikita Scherbak, but he is an excellent skater with good hands in tight and around the net. He is the type of player who seems to always find loose pucks and open areas of the ice. A generally good finisher, but possibly better playmaker.
Saskatoon was a very bad team in 2013-14, winning only 16 games, which makes Scherbak a different prospect to project. He lacks physicality as well, at least in the sense that he is not a player who goes out looking for contact.
Scherbak would be an appealing prospect for the Penguins because of his play away from the puck. Crosby and Malkin are two centers who like to have the puck on their stick as much as possible, and they need linemates who are good at getting into scoring position and finishing plays – two things Scherbak excels at. 
Alex Tuch, C/W, USNDTP Though several scouts and mock drafts have him available at the 22nd spot, it would be surprising if Alex Tuch is still on the board when the Penguins have the opportunity to pick. And if he is, the Penguins should not hesitate to select him.
Standing at 6’3 and over 200 pounds, Tuch is a rare blend of size, skill, and physicality that every NHL team covets. Like the majority of bigger players, he will take a little while to meet his potential, but given the fact he projects to be a player similar to David Backes or Keith Primeau, that wait would be worth it.
My fifth expert is an up and coming hockey writer who I picked from within PI, Sean Griffin, formerly of The Hockey Writers.  Sean feels that barring some sort of blockbuster deal, the Penguins won’t have access to any of the near-slam dunk prospects available at the top of the 2014 draft. But, with a barren cupboard up front and a plethora of young defensemen in the stable, it’s no secret Pittsburgh will lean toward selecting a forward if the club elects to keep its first round pick. So which prospects could find themselves on the Pens’ radar?

Below, we highlight three youngsters who could each pique the Penguins’ interest. Unless, of course, someone too good to be true falls to the 22nd pick, in which case, all bets are off:

Adrian Kempe, C/LW, MODO (SHL) If Kempe is available at the 22nd pick, don’t be surprised to see Rutherford and the Penguins snatch up the feisty winger. An excellent skater with an impressive shot, Kempe doesn’t shy away from the physical side of the game. The Swede plays well in high traffic areas and isn’t afraid to go to the net or fight for pucks in the corners. He’ll need to add some bulk to his 6-2 frame before he transitions from the SHL to the NHL but he projects to evolve into a solid two-way player with some snarl to his game. 
Nikita Scherbak, RW, Saskatoon Blades (WHL) Scherbak led all WHL rookies in goals, assists and points, posting 78 points in 65 games. His speed, creativity and a quick release serve to torment opposing defenses. At 6-2, his willingness to drive the net combined with his knack for protecting the puck could allow him to become a force to be reckoned with once he begins to fill out.  
Brendan Lemieux, LW, Barrie Colts (OHL) Most pundits who know much more about the draft than I do project Lemieux as a late first to early second round pick. As a result, he might represent a stretch at the 22nd pick, particularly for a team not slated to select again until the fourth round. Regardless, the son of former super-pest Claude Lemieux possesses the kind of package the Penguins are starving for. He’s a monster in front of the net and in the corners, he’s an agitator and he’s eager to stick up for his teammates. Lemieux, however, also possesses a solid offensive game, thanks to a quick, accurate shot and an ability to finish around the net.


  1. He's not going to be a 1st rounder, but I would love to see Sam Schutt from Kingston (OHL) picked in one of the later rounds. He needs some seasoning but has decent hands, good vision and some experience/success playing with skilled and elite talent (played extensively with Sam Bennett this year). He's the type that could slide into the back 6 or the top 6 and play a role with success. His uncle Rod played for the Penguins in the late 70's/early 80's which makes Sam a fun legacy pick as well.

  2. I would gladly take any Tuch, although he isn't expected to fall that far, or his teammate Larkin who will probably go even higher. I'm somewhat less impressed by but still quite fond of the options of Kempe or Scherbak. And it is a little bit of a reach (he is projected late 1st/early 2nd) but I would be willing to take a chance on MacInnis, I think he could be a hidden gem waiting for the right team to take a chance. What we most certainly do not need is more goaltenders or defenseman, especially since a last 1st pick is going to be a good 3+ years away from making an impact in the NHL anyway.


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