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Friday November 27 2015
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Stealing the Show

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Jordan Staal and Zbynek Michalek were traded, Pittsburgh was sucked in by PariseWatch for the better part of a week, Sidney Crosby will wear a Penguins uniform for another 12 years, and, oh yeah, the Penguins drafted a couple of guys.

Pittsburgh didn’t just host the 2012 NHL Draft, they starred in it.

Not since selecting Jordan Staal in 2006 had the Penguins made a top-10 pick. You have to go back 22 more years to find the last time Pittsburgh made more than one selection in the first round.

The excitement started just moments into Friday evening when Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero shipped Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the eighth overall pick in the first round.

Besides opening up $4 million in cap space, Staal’s departure meant that no Shero draft pick has played 82 games—or one full NHL season—with the Penguins.

It won’t be long until his 2012 picks break that trend.

Derrick Pouliot may have been a reach at pick eight, but there is no questioning his talent.

Pouliot was the 12th ranked North American skater according to Central Scouting and considered to be one of the top offensive-defensemen in the draft.

“When the Penguins' pick was announced, the whole building erupted,” Portland Winterhawks general manager and coach Mike Johnston stated. “It’s pretty neat for a player like Derrick to get drafted at No. 8 when he was projected to go around No. 13, 14 or 15.”

Pittsburgh and Portland are familiar with each other – at least from a hockey standpoint. Last season the Penguins selected Winterhawks defenseman Joe Morrow with the 23rd pick overall. And while Shero and company are excited for Morrow, Pouliot is the Winterhawk with the most potential.

His puckhandling and passing skills are rivaled by few in the draft. A future powerplay quarterback, Pouliot has an accurate, if not hard, shot. His elite skating fuels his transition game and makes him a lethal offensive threat from the blueline. Pouliot’s vision is excellent and his playmaking ability suggests stardome under Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma.

One drawback to Pouliot’s game is his defensive awareness, but don’t think he doesn’t know.

“You can sharpen up my defensive game I think. You can always do stuff with that,” Pouliot stated when asked of his weaknesses. “(I could) be a little more intense, gritty, but I think that comes with a little bit of maturity and time.”

One prospect who doesn’t have any issues defensively is the Penguins 22nd overall pick, Ollie Maatta.

The Finnish-born defenseman is everything Pittsburgh needs.

Smart and responsible in his own end, Maatta is as pure of a defenseman as there was in the 2012 draft. His patience and anticipation make him the type of shutdown man every team in the NHL covets.

Although scouts rave about his defensive game, Maatta is a sound distributor from the back and can aptly work his way out of trouble. His offensive game won’t wow anyone, but his intelligence and positioning allow him to quarterback the breakout -- an attribute that enables him to play in every situation.

“I consider myself more defensive but I can still bring some offense and I believe that I can play in every situation,” Maatta said when asked to assess his skill set. “I need to get bigger and stronger and work on my overall game.”

Like Pouliot, Maatta was spotted while playing alongside another Pittsburgh draft pick.

Scott Harrington and Maatta skated together for the OHL’s London Knights. Harrington is considered one of the organization’s top prospects but it was Maatta that caught the Penguins eye this year.

“We saw a lot of [Maatta] in London this year,” Shero said in his post-draft interview. “He is a big, strong kid already. His first step is development camp in July and we are very excited to have him. He has a nice future ahead of him.”

Ranked as the eighth-best North American skater by Central Scouting, Maatta’s stock dropped enough Friday night to qualify him as a steal at pick 22. He was originally slated to land in the top-10 but fell far enough to give the Penguins a dynamic defensive one-two punch in the first round.

Bylsma certainly isn’t complaining.

“Between this year’s draft and last year’s draft, [we selected] four outstanding players. We’re talking about four guys right there with Pouliot, Maatta, Harrington and Morrow that may down the road make up one of the best defensive cores in the league.”

Add Brian Dumoulin and Harrison Ruopp to that mix as well.

The two blueliners are both highly regarded prospects that will join the deepest defensive core in the NHL thanks to Shero’s draft-day deals. Their additions, along with Pittsburgh future depth at the position, make current blue chip prospect Simon Despres expendable should a more NHL ready defenseman come available via a trade.

You won’t see either of these 2012 draft picks in the lineup next year, but their value is already impacting the Penguins offseason moves.

Neil Walker’s contract expires after the 2016 season. The Pirates second baseman is due for a big raise in arbitration this offseason—likely to $10 million—and signing him to a long-term extension will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $12-$15 million annually.
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