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July 28, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Twenty-one notes on today’s moves

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Twenty-one notes on the Penguins moves of the day, sending Brandon Sutter and a third-round pick to Vancouver for Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening and a second-round pick and signing Eric Fehr to a three-year, $6 million contract.

— GM Jim Rutherford said he started discussing the basics of a Sutter-for-Bonino trade with Vancouver about a month before the draft.

— The third-round pick the Penguins gave up is the one they got from Buffalo as compensation for Dan Bylsma. The second-round pick the Penguins got was originally Anaheim’s. Because Anaheim will probably be one of the league’s better teams and Buffalo is still rebuilding, those picks probably won’t be too far apart in the draft order.

— Advanced stats say Bonino and Fehr are good possession guys.

— Quotable Rutherford: “The nice thing is we’ll have a competitive camp. It’s not like guys will be automatically put on the top six or the top nine. We have enough good players now that the guys are really going to have to compete for those spots and compete all year. If a guy falls off, there’s a guy waiting to jump right in there. I like the fact that we have enough guys that each guy can push each other.”

— If Sutter was super psyched about making the climb up the depth chart from third-line center with the Penguins to second-line center with the Canucks, he hid it well. “When you get to a team, you’re not too concerned with what your role’s going to be,” he said. “I just want to do what’s asked of me, but I hope to play an increased role. It sounds like there’s a opportunity for me to be a second-line center, but at the same time, whatever works for the coaches and whatever makes our team better.”

— Sutter on the fact that none of his three seasons with the Penguins ended with a championship: “There’s always a little bit of disappointment there, a bit of a sour taste, but there’s a good group there. I can’t say anything bad about it.”

— Bonino said he actually likes blocking shots, and he led Canucks forwards in the stat last season. He said that comes from his college days at Boston University, when coach Jack Parker used to give out helmet stickers for blocked shots.

— Rutherford said Bonino could play on the half-wall on a second power-play unit. That doesn’t seem too likely, unless there are injuries, but Bonino has been a scoring-line player in the past. I remember him centering Kyle Palmieri and Patrick Maroon on a very good line in Syracuse of the AHL. Bonino was BU’s leading scorer one season too.

— Bonino said the one Penguins player he knows well is Ben Lovejoy. They were teammates in Anaheim. “Maybe he liked me a little bit and he’ll say a few good things about me before I get there. He’s like the mayor. He talks to everybody,” Bonino said.

— Bonino just bought a house in Vancouver in mid-May. Didn’t even have it fully decorated yet. “The way the market is, we should be OK,” he said, looking at the bright side.

— Rutherford said Bonino is a smart player who could be used on the wing. I’m sure that’s true, but Bonino said he has very little experience playing anywhere but center.

— Quotable Bonino: “It’s turned more into a top nine (league) these days. Teams have good centers in the three spot. They’re getting a good amount of ice and they’re producing. That’s something the league has trended toward. I remember the Ducks in ‘07. They had Rob Niedermayer and Sami Pahlsson. It’s rare to find lines like that who are just solely checkers. Everyone can do everything, and that’s something I hope my line can do.”

— You know that whole joining-the-enemy angle that hack sports writers like me always take when a player goes from the Capitals to the Penguins? Here’s what Fehr had to say about it: “They’re two teams that didn’t really get along, but all along, really respected each other. I’m excited to join the Penguins and hoping to do great things.”

— Fehr was a right wing for most of his life. Transitioning to center in recent years meant learning to take faceoffs. He’s become pretty good at it, winning 52 percent of his draws last year. “When coach Adam Oates wanted me to play center, that was probably the biggest challenge for me, trying to win faceoffs against guys who have been doing it their whole life,” Fehr said. “I took it seriously. I worked with Jay Beagle. He’s one of the better faceoff men in the league. I picked his brain and took some strategies that he had. It’s a science. It’s not just dropping a puck. There’s a lot of skill involved in it. I’ve learned a lot the last couple years.”

— With all this talk about trades today, it’s easy to forget that Fehr was a free agent. He had multiple offers. He chose the Penguins. Here’s why: “The opportunity is there. There’s really good skill up front and a really exciting team that pushes the pace and wants to play offensive hockey. It’s also a team that has the ability to win. Being in Washington all these years, we always had a good team. We always had a shot. I want to have that. I want to have a shot at winning every year. With Pittsburgh, it’s a great opportunity. They’ve made some great additions and I’m happy to be joining the team.” Also, he liked the stability of a three-year deal.

— Clendening said he doesn’t know much about the Penguins organization, but he became good friends with Gibsonia’s Brandon Saad when they were teammates with the Blackhawks, so he has a little inside info on the Pittsburgh area. “He shot me a text and told me about the area and told me about maybe a place to live,” he said.

— Clendening is coming off a run to the Calder Cup finals with the AHL’s Utica Comets. “This is a very short summer. We didn’t finish until the 20th of June. Before I know it, I’m going to have to turn around and do it all again,” he said.

— Clendening has been one of the top offensive defensemen in the AHL over the past three seasons. His first two years, he made the league’s postseason all-star teams.

— Here’s how Clendening describes his offensive game: “I think just moving the puck, putting the puck in the right spots, getting it to the right guys, especially on a team like this. You give it to the right people, something’s bound to happen. I was lucky. I got to do the same thing in Chicago as part of a similar roster filled with NHL all-stars. I can’t be more thrilled to go back to a situation like that. I had at one point Kane, Toews, Hossa, Sharp, Keith. Now it’s Sid and Malkin and Kunitz. They know what they’re doing when they get it.”

— Clendening realized he forgot to mention Phil Kessel when ticking off the list of Penguins stars. He apologized. “It’s probably frowned upon to forget about that guy,” he joked.

— Here’s what Clendening says he has to get better at to become a full-time NHL regular: “I obviously need to improve everywhere, but I don’t think there’s any one thing that sticks out. Obviously, the better I defend, the easier it is to get the puck back and play to my strengths. That’s always been the same answer for me. Ever since I’ve turned pro, it’s been the same answer. Obviously playing defense at the NHL level is a hard thing. The quicker and more efficient I am at that, the quicker I get the puck back and play to my strengths.”

Bye for now,

jb

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July 24, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Friday fun and games

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I’ll have a story on Tom Fitzgerald leaving the Penguins to join Ray Shero in New Jersey, but in the meantime, some Friday fun and games.

Colleague Mike Palm and I were corresponding about NHL expansion, and it got me thinking about good hockey cities. One way to measure the quality of a hockey city is by looking at how many players from a city go on to play in the NHL.

So I called up quanthockey.com and made up a Sporcle quiz. What cities have produced the most NHL points?

Pittsburgh, if you were wondering, is 130th with 1,328 points, led by 381 from R.J. Umberger and 370 from Ryan Malone. Brandon Saad is fourth with a bullet with 126. It’s right between St. John’s, Newfoundland and Worcester, Mass.

Sidney Crosby, incidentally, has Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia in 218th place with 853 points, even though he’s the only player contributing to the total.

Follow this link to the quiz. I have to warn you. You’d better brush up on your Ontario towns before playing. There are 15 of them on there. Also, if you can spell Henrik Sedin’s hometown, more power to you. I only included the city’s name, sans state or province, to make it a little easier to type in guesses.

Bye for now,

jb

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July 22, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Playing the lottery

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Craig Patrick points and smiles. (Getty Images)

Craig Patrick points and smiles. (Getty Images)

Ten years ago today, the 2005 NHL draft lottery was held.

A little refresher on how it worked. Because it was after the 2004-05 season was wiped out by a lockout, it was a different kind of lottery. Each team started with three lottery balls. A ball was subtracted if the team made the playoffs in the previous three seasons or picked first overall in the past four drafts. That left the odds like this:

3 in 48: Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Columbus and the Rangers

2 in 48: Anaheim, Atlanta, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Nashville and Phoenix

1 in 48: Everybody else

The Penguins obviously won the lottery, chose Sidney Crosby and changed the course of franchise history. But what about the other three teams that had the same shot at getting Crosby but did not? How did they fare afterwards?

— Columbus picked sixth and chose Gilbert Brule. Mistake. He scored 12 goals in 146 games with the Blue Jackets, bounced around the league for a while and played in the KHL last season.

It wasn’t a terrible decision at the time. Brule was ranked fifth in Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American forwards. The sting of losing the lottery would have been lessened greatly if the Blue Jackets had instead looked to the top of the European skater rankings, where Anze Kopitar was first, but instead, he went 11th to the Kings. The Blue Jackets have made the playoffs twice in the 10 years since, falling in the first round both times.

— The Rangers picked 12th and chose Marc Staal. That’s a case of making the best out of a bad situation after they lost the lottery. Staal has become and excellent defenseman for the Rangers, a cornerstone of the franchise.

You might make a case that they would have been better off taking Kris Letang or Keith Yandle, but they were ranked much lower in the Central Scouting rankings. Staal was an excellent choice. The Rangers have made the playoffs in all but one of the 10 years since.

— The Sabres picked 13th and chose Marek Zagrapan. It was a questionable pick at the time, since he was the 23rd ranked North American skater by Central Scouting, and it looks even worse in retrospect. Zagrapan had a couple of OK years in the AHL, then went back to Europe and landed last season with a team in Austria. He never played in the NHL.

If the Sabres felt they needed a center, picking Paul Stastny might have eased the pain of losing the lottery. If they could have shifted to the wing, James Neal or T.J. Oshie would have been nice consolation prizes. Instead, they took Zagrapan and haven’t made the playoffs since 2011 or won a round since 2007.

The moral of the story? Losing the draft lottery didn’t deal a crippling blow to any of these franchises. Compounding that loss with a bad draft pick probably did.

Bye for now,

jb

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July 22, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Hockey geography

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The ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers announced today that they’ve extended their affiliation agreement with the Penguins for another season, running their partnership to a remarkable 17 years.

For the first time since 2009-10, the Penguins won’t be sharing the Nailers with another team. Montreal moved its ECHL operations to Brampton, Ontario. That’s significant in the goaltending department. Peter Delmas and Mike Condon have been Habs prospects who have done a great job in net for the Nailers in recent years.

Without that additional goaltending option, the Nailers will probably rely heavily on the goalie who comes down from Wilkes-Barre at the end of camp, whether that’s rookie Tristan Jarry or a veteran minor leaguer added in free agency.

From a trivia perspective, this is as good a time as any to break out a new Sporcle quiz. By my last count, 50 former Nailers have made their way to the NHL. How many can you name?

Anyway, the announcement got me thinking aboutgeography. I enlisted Google maps to look at the distances between the NHL, AHL and ECHL teams in various organizations.

I decided to put the maps after the jump so this doesn’t become a massive post. Click here and let’s talk geography.

Continue Reading →

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July 21, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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With Adams, Spaling and Winnik gone, who kills penalties?

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The Penguins addressed their need for a top-six winger in a big way by acquiring Phil Kessel.

Now, defensemen Kris Letang, Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta could quarterback power plays, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and others split between two dynamic units.

But what happens when the other team is on the power play? Who’s going to kill penalties?

Nick Spaling, Daniel Winnik, Craig Adams and Maxim Lapierre (at least for now) are gone. Pascal Dupuis and Brandon Sutter combined to average 4:28 of shorthanded ice time per game, and I’m not sure anyone would say Dupuis playing even 75 percent of the Penguins’ games is a sure thing.

The other possible forwards the Penguins could deploy on the penalty kill combined to average a total of 38 seconds in 2014-15.

David Perron, Kessel and Beau Bennett didn’t record a second of shorthanded time. Hornqvist averaged three seconds, Malkin five and Chris Kunitz eight.

There has been the argument that Crosby and Malkin should kill penalties more. Maybe even Kunitz, who could potentially be transitioning into a third-line role.

That scenario lumps an extraordinary amount of responsibility on guys who will log premium power-play minutes, along with as many five-on-five shifts as they can reasonably handle.

What happens, too, if Dupuis or Sutter take the minor? Dupuis/Sutter and Crosby for the first 60 seconds, Malkin and Kunitz for the second 60? Do you want those guys doing that?

This question, to me, should serve as a road map to what general manager Jim Rutherford could do to tweak the fourth line. No, there won’t be drastic changes. But whatever ingredient Rutherford adds, there must be some element of PK experience.

It would also help to get someone who can win a key faceoff or two. That element of the Penguins’ game lagged in 2014-15. And Oskar Sundqvist (hurt for 2014-15 AHL playoffs, hurt for development camp) remains somewhat of an unknown.

The Penguins won just 49.1 percent of their faceoffs in 2014-15, 19th in the league. In the three seasons prior, they finished above 50 percent each time, placing 12th, seventh and 13th.

OK, so who are some guys the Penguins could potentially target? Here are a few:

Jay McClement, 32 Manny Malhotra, 35
7-14–21 in 82 GP with CAR 1-3–4 in 58 with MTL
55.4% FO on 990 draws 59.4% on 904 draws
$1.2 million through 2016-17 UFA ($850,000 for MTL in 2014-15)
178:58 total, 2:10/GP 138:46 total, 2:23/GP
Maxim Lapierre, 30 Jim Slater, 32
2-9–11 in 80 GP with STL/PIT 5-8–13 in 82 GP with WPG
52.9% on 580 draws 59.6% FO on 751 draws
UFA ($1.1 M for STL/PIT in 2014-15) UFA ($1.6 M for WPG in 2014-15)
PIT: 78:04 total, 2:13/GP 185:44 total, 2:15/GP
STL: 79:07 total, 1:45/GP

The Penguins would want Maxim Lapierre to treat the regular season like, you know, something resembling the playoffs, and they wouldn’t want to pay him $1.1 million like he earned in 2014-15. But he does provide a reliable fourth-line option, a guy who could win defensive-zone draws and kill penalties.

Also keep an eye on Jay McClement. He’s under contract with Carolina through 2016-17, but I don’t think a 32-year-old, defensive-minded center is the difference between the Hurricanes competing for the Metropolitan Division title and not. There’s obvious history here with Rutherford, too.

McClement produced seven goals and 21 points in 2014-15. He won 55.4 percent of his 990 faceoffs and logged 178:58 of shorthanded time, an average of 2:10 per game.

Trading a prospect — Carolina would surely want one — or a draft pick could do wonders for the stability of the Penguins’ fourth line and PK unit. The Hurricanes might even handle some of the money.

Another intriguing possibility would be Jim Slater, who’s a UFA and made $1.6 million with Winnipeg in 2014-15. Went 59.6 percent on 751 draws. Ridiculous faceoff guy. Logged similar shorthanded numbers to McClement.

One question would be whether Slater — who has never left the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise — could seek more elsewhere. That may also be the case with Lapierre.

A third option, although it doesn’t fit their go-young assertions, would be Manny Malhotra, formerly of the Canadiens. He’d come cheap. He played on a $850,000 contract this past season. The UFA went 59.4 percent on 904 draws and averaged 2:23 of shorthanded time per game.

The timing of this could be tricky. On one hand, I could see one other ball dropping around the league, and the Penguins pouncing — if the money works. Or I could see Rutherford again slow-playing this like he did the Kessel trade, confident he’ll eventually get what he needs.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the Penguins address this. And rest assured: It will be addressed.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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July 20, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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A linked look back at development camp

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Twenty-two stories. Twelve by me. Nine, including a lengthy look-ahead at the Penguins’ ownership situation by my trivia-loving colleague, Jonathan Bombulie. And one by our summer intern, Wynston Wilcox. Plus another from Bombulie coming Tuesday.

All, told, it was a good week of development camp for Penguins coaches, players and team personnel. It’s also one I was extremely proud to be a part of.

In case you missed anything, here’s a list of links from our coverage over the past seven days.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

TUESDAY
Jobs opening on fourth line as Penguins kick off development camp
Busy week ahead for Penguins’ prospects
Winger Farnham signs deal with Penguins

WEDNESDAY
Penguins’ Pouliot heard trade whispers, but now hopes to make noise
Penguins’ prospect Sprong wants to show he belongs
Penguins make 2 hires aimed at addressing recent injury woes

THURSDAY
Penguins goalie prospect Murray longs for his shot at NHL
Penguins goalie prospect Jarry dealing with redefined expectations
Pair of Penguins fans make memories at prospect camp
Penguins’ Rutherford talks Maatta, Kessel and pricey third line

FRIDAY
Financial experts suggest sale of Penguins could drag into fall
Like countryman Jagr, Penguins’ Simon looking to make quick impact
Sheary tough not to notice at Pens’ development camp
RMU player getting on-ice internship with Penguins
Maatta says return by Penguins training camp is ‘absolutely a possibility’

SATURDAY
Pens prospect Zlobin happy being back on ice
Penguins’ 6th-round pick Tiffels learning to fire away
Development camp for new coach Sullivan, too
Details for Penguins’ open-to-the-public scrimmage

SUNDAY
Second-generation Loney sparkles in Penguins’ development camp scrimmage
Penguins notebook: Defenseman Pouliot sets tone in scrimmage

MONDAY
Penguins notebook: Team to have plenty of forward options in camp

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July 18, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Development camp scrimmage

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(mauryshow.com)

(mauryshow.com)

It started as an intrasquad scrimmage to end the Penguins’ annual development camp. It ended as an episode of the Maury Povich Show.

As in, with all due respect to Troy Loney, “This kid who had a hat trick in the scrimmage and then won the shootout with a filthy Patrick Kane-style dangle, he’s related to Troy Loney? With those hands? Shouldn’t someone do a paternity test?”

I’m just kidding, of course. I’m sure Troy was very proud of his son Ty after he was the star of the show today, scoring three goals to lead his team to a 6-0 victory. It’s important to note that Ty had four points in five games in a late-season AHL stint with Norfolk last year. He’s on an AHL contract with the Penguins, but he might be closer to the NHL than we realize.

Anyway, maybe I’m weird, and maybe this is looking way too deep into an intrasquad scrimmage, but here’s my No. 1 takeaway from today. The White team won 6-0 because its defensemen — Derrick Pouliot, Jeff Taylor, Matt Murphy, Patrick Sexton and Clark Seymour — moved the puck really well and really quickly out of the D zone and through the neutral zone.

That’s significant because that’s Mike Johnston hockey. That’s how he wants the Penguins to play, and, to an extent, how they did play at times last season before injuries messed up the blue line. This insignificant little scrimmage might be a blueprint for how the Penguins want to play.

Some other notes:

Dominik Simon scored two goals, not on highlight-reel plays, but by making good decisions with the puck and going to the right areas to score goals. I feel comfortable saying this kid has thrust himself into the competition for a fourth-line job in the fall.

— Sexton had the hit of the scrimmage, drilling Daniel Sprong with an open-ice shot to the midsection. As mentioned earlier, he also moved the puck well. Of all the prospects who were essentially unknown at the start of this camp, Sexton probably had the best week.

— Tom Fitzgerald mentioned Anthony Angello and Jake Guentzel as under-the-radar guys who had good camps.

— Fitzgerald said it was good to see Anton Zlobin back on the ice (and scoring a goal) after shoulder surgery last season. He said he’d like to have a word with him about carrying the puck up the left wing and then cutting across the middle with his head down, though.

— One play that paints a picture of where Jaden Lindo is as a prospect right now. He blew past Troy Josephs with a burst of speed to pick up a loose puck in the neutral zone, started skating with purpose up the left wing … then lost the puck to a trailing Josephs on a little reaching poke-check. Lindo is close to being a player. He’s just missing a little something.

— An interesting moment of physicality from the scrimmage: Robert Morris’ 6-4 winger Brandon Denham collides with 6-7 Russian forward Nikita Pavlychev in the neutral zone … and Pavlychev is the one who goes down.

Tristan Jarry got touched up for four goals in the first half of the scrimmage. I wouldn’t bury him too much, since the White team had almost all the possession, but he’s a kid who could probably use a dose of confidence right about now.

I’ll have some follow-up stuff in the next few days that I’ll make sure to mention here or on Twitter, especially a piece on Bryan Rust and the way he shows character every time he conducts an interview. In the meantime …

Bye for now,

jb

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July 17, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Development camp – day three

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The third day of on-ice activity at development camp saw players broken up into position-specific groups for drills. One of the forward drills saw two players skating into the zone two-on-none. The player with the puck on the wing was supposed to take a shot to the far pad to create a rebound for the other player, who was center-driving to the net.

Daniel Sprong kept screwing the drill up. But not in a bad way. See, at least three of the times he took a shot toward the far pad, the puck went inside the far post for a goal. Moral of the story: The kid’s got a shot.

He scored one other goal on a play where he batted a bouncing rebound in out of midair with a half baseball swing. If circumstances were different and the Penguins weren’t putting together a roster designed to win right now, we might be talking about Sprong as a candidate to stick in the NHL as an 18-year-old.

Some other notes from today:

Anton Zlobin is a right-handed shot who is comfortable playing on the left wing. He handles the puck well on his backhand. That’s a good skill for a prospect to have. I’m writing about him today, so keep an eye out for that. I’ve called him the top darkhorse prospect in camp, with darkhorse defined as a guy who isn’t very well known who will get some NHL games by the end of the year.

— A funny scene from a drill with goalie Sean Maguire. He was taking alternating shots — by goalie coach Mike Buckley from the slot and player development coach Mark Recchi from the right dot. With all due respect to Buckley, it looked like Maguire was alternating taking pitches from the 45 mph machine and the 90 mph machine at the batting cages. Recchi could still probably score 20 goals in the NHL.

Bryan Rust has a low turning radius and sense of urgency about getting shots off that make him dangerous around the net.

— The guys who stood out most in a one-timer drill were Frederik Tiffels and Jean-Sebastien Dea. It’s not a surprise that Dea stood out. That’s a huge part of his game. I don’t know if I was expecting it from Tiffels. He’s a neat under-the-radar prospect, and if I’m not mistaken, Jason Mackey is planning on writing a bit about him soon. He’s got an interesting back story as well as a good shot and good wheels.

— I don’t know if this fits in with his scouting report and I haven’t seen him much with my own eyes, but Dominik Simon looked really good when put in defensive situations in drills, like defending a two-on-one. If that really is a part of his game and it wasn’t just a good couple of drills against teenagers, that could go a long way toward getting Simon to the NHL as a fourth-liner.

— If you really think about it, is there really that much of a difference in resume between Sergei Plotnikov, who has been penciled in among the top nine forwards, and Simon, who hasn’t got that kind of hype yet? Different styles of play, obviously, since Plotnikov is a bruiser and Simon is smallish, but Simon scored 18 goals in the Czech league last season as a 20-year-old. Plotnikov has never scored more than 15 in a season in the KHL. (Though he has scored in the teens four times.)

— Noticed Jaden Lindo getting one-on-one instruction with Recchi and WBS coach Mike Sullivan. I think the Penguins are going to take interest in him as a project. He’s big and skates well but is very raw.

— A lesser-known guy who looked good at times today was Mike Floodstrand. He’s an undrafted development camp invite from the US National Team Development Program who’s headed to Harvard in the fall. Has put up good numbers in international competition. His skill stood out to me. Plays the puck well on his backhand, good patience with the puck, a nice shot. (If it’s OK with everybody, I’m going to call him Hawk because the real name of the wrestler Hawk from the Road Warriors is Mike Hegstrand, and that sounds similar to Mike Floodstrand.)

Teddy Blueger was really competitive in defensive situations. Another reason he’s a coach’s favorite, I’m sure.

Anthony Angello had his best day. The previous two days this week, I thought he just looked like a big guy (and at 6-4, he is that). But today, he showed a drive to get to the net.

— Out of the defensemen, the one guy I noticed was Clark Seymour. I’ve been saying for a couple of years now that he’s looked more impressive than some guys his age who have NHL contracts (he doesn’t; he’s on an AHL deal). Big, right-handed, gets shots through. Maybe this is the year he takes a step forward.

Stay tuned for another one of these prospect posts after the camp-ending scrimmage tomorrow.

Bye for now,

jb

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