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Thursday July 24 2014
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Penguins Top Prospects

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The Penguins' annual Prospect Development Camp begins this week, with recent top draft picks Derrick Pouliot, Olli Maatta, Joe Morrow, Scott Harrington and Simon Despres highlighting list of invitees.

The roster features 22 players drafted by Pittsburgh – including all nine players selected at the 2012 NHL Draft – as well as recent acquisitions Brian Dumoulin and Harrison Ruopp. A few of the team's more experienced prospects--Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait and Eric Tangradi--won't be at the camp, but are nonetheless players to watch as the season draws near.


Beau Bennett, RW- Arguably the best offensive prospect for the Penguins, Bennett is coming off his sophomore and final season with the University of Denver. Drafted 20th overall in 2010, Bennett only played 47 games over his two seasons in Denver due to injury, but still posted impressive stats with 13 goals and 25 assists as a Pioneer. At 6’ 1” and 190-pounds, Bennett has the size and build to become a reliable winger at the NHL level. The 21-year-old signed his entry-level contract with the Pens this past spring.


Robert Bortuzzo, D- Drafted 78th overall in the third round of the 2007 draft, Bortuzzo has since greatly improved his game. Not necessarily a physical player, he uses his size to “[pin] players against the boards” rather than outright checking them, according to hockeysfutre.com. Last season—his third with the Baby Pens—he made his NHL debut, playing in six games suffering a concussion.


Simon Despres, D- Despres played a big role on the Penguins’ blueline last season after injuries plagued Pittsburgh yet again. He’s a fluid skater who will turn 21 this month, yet he possesses hockey sense beyond his years and has proven that he can handle skating with some of the Penguins’ top defensemen. At 6’ 4” and 214 pounds, he has the size and stature to be nitty-gritty on defense. He’s a sought-after prospect by other NHL teams looking to make a trade with the Pens.


Brian Dumoulin, D- Dumoulin was acquired by the Penguins from the Carolina Hurricanes along with Brandon Sutter and 2012 first-round draft pick Derrick Pouliot in exchange for Jordan Staal. The 6-4, 210-pound all-around defenseman will turn pro after three years of collegiate hockey at Boston College.


Scott Harrington, D- Probably the most accomplished prospect for the Pens since being drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft, Harrington has a bright future ahead of him. He has a physical presence all over the ice and is a mobile skater, especially moving backwards and laterally. He spent the past three seasons with the London Knights of the OHL and was a member of Team Canada during the World Junior Championships in December. The 19-year-old, 6’ 1”, 200-pound blue liner ex expected to land in the AHL this fall and could even see some NHL action at some point this season.


Ollie Maataa, D- Drafted by Pittsburgh in the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft, Maataa was the No. 8-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting. Just 17, he spent his first season in North America playing for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in 2011-12. He led all Knights blueliners during the regular season in goals, assists and points while earning a spot on the OHL First-Team All-Rookie squad.


Joe Morrow, D- The Pens’ first round pick in the 2011 draft put on an impressive show during training camp in September, but was sent to the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL Photo credit: Ian Altenbaugh-HFto further develop his game – which has offensive skills as well as sound defensive principles. At just 19, he is close to NHL-ready and it is quite possible he could land himself a spot in Pittsburgh as early as this upcoming season.


Derrick Pouliot, D- Drafted by the Penguins in the first round (8th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft, Pouliot is an offensive-minded blueliner who spent the last two-plus seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League (WHL). He recently played in the CHL Top Prospects Game, where independent scouting service Red Line Report said he was “perhaps the most impressive player in the game.”


Harrison Ruopp, D- Acquired by the Penguins from the Phoenix Coyotes in June as part of the Zbynek Michalek trade, Ruopp is a punishing defender has played the past three seasons in a shutdown role with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League (WHL).


Zach Sill, C- Sill offers a blend of a physical play and offensive production that can fit on a third or fourth line in the NHL. Coming off his third season in Wilkes-Barre, the 24-year-old has yet to take the ice for the Penguins, but that day could be coming sooner than later. Hockeysfuture.com credits him with “improving his skating, which not only helped him improve other facets of his game, but has elevated him from a career minor-leaguer to an NHL prospect.”


Brian Strait, D- The 24-year-old former Boston University product has tasted the NHL with 12 games over the past two seasons, including three playoff appearances this past spring. He shows no fear when it comes to playing a physical game, but lacks a defining shot. He’ll have a good shot at sticking with the Pens this fall.


Eric Tangradi, LW- The restricted free agent promised to be a solid addition to the Pens after being acquired from Anaheim in 2009. However, the 23-year-old left winger has failed to develop as quickly as the Penguins hoped, scoring only one goal and five points in 40 games in Pittsburgh. His size—6’4”, 225 pounds—and presence around the net are still key aspects to his game, and he is definitely not afraid to drop the gloves or play physically. Tangradi has to start producing more offensively, however, to secure a spot with the Pens.

I was in a minor league press box in Charlotte, NC, last month, taking in one of Gregory Polanco’s final triple-A games. A colleague, upon learning I was from Pittsburgh, approached me with a question.
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