Despite finishing last during the 2003-04 NHL regular
season, the Pittsburgh Penguins had the second overall selection, not the
first, due to the Washington Capitals winning the draft lottery.
The Penguins possessed three extra picks in this draft, No.
61, 85, and 222 overall. The 61st
overall pick came from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for goaltender Johan
Hedberg before the season got underway.
The 85th pick was the Calgary Flames third round selection,
which the Penguins obtained by trading defenseman Andrew Ference to the
Flames. The 222nd overall
pick was acquired at the trading deadline from the Canucks in exchange for
veteran defenseman Marc Bergevin.
Going into the draft, the Penguins most pressing
organizational need was scoring forwards.
With only Sergei Anshakov and
Matt Murley as high impact offensive
forwards in the system, there was an obvious need for goal scorers. The strongest position for the Pens was
clearly between the pipes with Sebastien
Caron and Marc-Andre Fleury
graduating to the NHL this past season, and Andy Chiodo and Bobby
Geopfert in the wings. They already had four potential NHL goaltenders in
The Penguins also had good depth at defense, with top
prospects Ryan Whitney and Noah Welch as well as promising
prospects such as Daniel Fernholm, Paul Bissonette, and Ross Lupaschuk.
Even though it was widely expected that the Penguins would
select Russian center Evgeni Malkin
second overall, the team still needed to address its lack of pure goal scorers
in the system. The team, in the midst
of rebuilding, could also afford to draft some long-term ‘project’ prospects,
especially if they had high long term potential.
Evgeni Malkin, C
6’3”, 186 lbs
Round 1, 2nd overall
Ever since the Penguins ‘lost’ the draft lottery it has been
more or less a given that Malkin would be in a Penguins uniform. There were some talks about the Pens trying
to trade up, or moving their second overall pick, but in the end it didn’t
happen. The Penguins made the easy
choice, selecting the lanky, highly touted play-making Russian second
overall. Malkin is a great all around
player, but what makes him stand out the most is his amazing passing skills. Scouts rave over his ability to see the ice
and complete passes that seem impossible.
However, Malkin is much more than a playmaking center.
Malkin has been heralded for his positive attitude and worth
ethic as well. He has shown that he is
defensively responsible and has excelled at all levels of play, accepting
whatever role his team hands to him.
Malkin is very much a team player.
After being ejected out of the U18 semi-final game against Canada for a
hit form behind, he was back at the bench within a matter of minutes, having
taken off his skates and jersey and returned to his teammates side to show his
support instead of sulking in the locker room about receiving the
At the U18 championships Malkin showed he was concerned
about winning, and not just making himself look better, as he played the role
of defensive stalwart for much of the final game against the United
States. Much has been made of the fact
that Malkin is nearly a year younger than number one pick Alexander Ovechkin. Although some, including Ovechkin himself,
believe Malkin is ready for the NHL, most scouts indicate that they think he
would benefit from at least another year in Russia. One of the biggest stumbling blocks facing the talented center
has nothing to do with hockey; he speaks very little English.
Overall Malkin is a great prospect to add to the Penguins
stable. He provides a solid overall
game and possesses strong leadership qualities. He appears to have recovered entirely from a concussion early in
the 2003-04 season, and only needs to get stronger. Malkin most likely won’t be rushed, but when he reaches the NHL,
he has the potential to be a franchise center.
Johannes Salmonsson, C
6’2”, 178 lbs
Round 2, 31st overall
In some ways, Salmonsson is a similar style of player as
Malkin, though without as much upside.
Salmonsson is a rangy center who is a complete forward. He has great hockey sense and distributes
the puck very well, while also having a scoring touch of his own. He stands out on the ice because he is
always skating hard and never is caught gliding around the ice. In addition to always moving his feet,
Salmonsson is a blazing fast skater who can change speeds to keep defenders
The big concern with Salmonsson is injuries. This past season his shoulder popped out of
place five times, causing him to miss games numerous times throughout the
year. However, he came back relatively
quickly from each injury. At one point
he had decided upon surgery to fix the problem, but reversed his decision when
asked to play for Sweden’s World Junior Championship team. Unfortunately Salmonsson did not have an
overly strong tournament, only tallying one assist in six games.
The hard-working and talented Swede may have fallen several
places because of injury problems during the season, problems with Salmonsson
say are no longer a concern as he has full mobility in his shoulder, but both
the Pens and Salmonsson are happy with the arrangement. It may take a couple of years for him to
arrive, but he will be happy when he does get to Pittsburgh. The Penguins have long been his favorite NHL
5’11”, 180 lbs
Round 2, 61st overall
Grand Rapids (USHSW)
Ranked the 143rd North American skater by CSB,
the Penguins took Goligoski far earlier than most expected him to go. Goligoski is an offensive defenseman with
strong skating abilities who creates a lot of offense with his puck handling
abilities. He reportedly was not on the
Penguins radar screen at all until a strong performance at a Minnesota tryout a
mere two weeks before the draft.
The Pens were not only captivated by his skating speed, but
also his passing, which they felt was on par with any other 2004 prospect. The draft table debated fiercely whether to
pick him early or wait until later rounds, hoping other teams were not as
enamored with his skill set as they were.
Ultimately they obviously decided to pick him early.
Goligoski turned away the chance to play in the USHL in
order to remain closer to home and play his senior year for a team he felt
could make the state championship. His
high school team was knocked out before making the championship game, but
Goligoski was named the 2004 News Tribune boys hockey player of the year. He has the raw potential to be an exciting
player at the NHL level, but it’s going to be a long road until then as he
begins playing for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the fall.
6’1”, 183 lbs
Round 3, 67th overall
St. Albert (AJHL)
Nick Johnson is a winger who is on the ice to put points on
the board. He has solid overall skating
skills but does not have top end speed.
Johnson is not a player you would classify as being physical in the
traditional sense as he doesn’t throw a lot of huge hits or really abuse
opposing defensemen on the fore-check, but he uses his body well in the
offensive zone. He fights through the
checks well and uses his frame to protect the puck both along the boards and
cutting in towards the center of the ice.
He possesses a strong all around offensive game both with
his shooting and playmaking abilities.
It is this overall package which prompted the Pens to use the first pick
of the third round to take Johnson. His
scoring abilities, which resulted in 35 goals and 36 assists for a total of 71
points in 51 games, also led him to be named the 2004 Canadian Junior “A”
Player of the Year, an award also won by Mike Comrie and Dany Heatley.
This year Johnson will switch from the St. Albert Saints to
playing for the Dartmouth College Big Green of the ECAC. He’s a bit of a project player, but the Pens
could have a good offensive player on their hands in a few years.
6’1”, 173 lbs
Round 3, 85th overall
Brian Gifford put up a lot of points playing for his high
school the past season (19 goals, 37 assists in 26 games). However, he is fairly thin at this point and
needs to add a great deal of strength before being ready to take the physical
rigors of an NHL game, furthermore a full schedule. He does have time to develop for the Pens. After being a finalist for the Minnesota Mr.
Hockey Award in the 2004 season, Gifford will suit up for the Indiana Ice of
the USHL in 2005 in hopes of earning a college scholarship.
Early in his hockey career Gifford has been a leader, being
a captain for his high school team, and appears to be on path to wear an “A”
with the Ice. Gifford has the ability
to put the puck in the net, but as his numbers indicate, he’s an unselfish
player who feeds his teammates whenever he can. Gifford is yet another project player, and should find himself
playing NCAA hockey by the fall of 2006.
5’10”, 183 lbs
Round 4, 99th overall
Tyler Kennedy played a sound all-around game for his OHL
team in 2003-04, and demonstrated his ability to play on either side of center
ice. His skating is one of his
strongest assets as he has good footwork s well as acceleration that allows him
to get a jump on opponents while racing for pucks. It is his speed and determination which made him excel on the
penalty kill this past season in the OHL.
However, it is his offensive skills that the Pens were most
impressed with. Kennedy is able to keep
control of the puck in traffic and good hockey sense and offensive instincts
let him be a strong playmaker that finds his teammates. Kennedy can score goals, he is described as
having soft hands, but one of the knocks against him is that he doesn’t shoot
enough, sometimes being a little too unselfish in passing up a good scoring
chance to try to find an open teammate.
Although he is only 5’10”, Kennedy isn’t afraid to mix it up
and go full speed into the corners. He
refuses to back down from larger opponents who try to push him around, and he
plays bigger than he actually is.
However, his height is one of the biggest obstacles that he faces as it
will be difficult for him to be successful at the NHL level as he doesn’t have
top end talent.
6’1”, 200 lbs
Round 5, 130th overall
Michal Sersen is a Slovakian player who decided to come to
North America to play the western style of the game because he prefers the
physicality that comes with the smaller rink.
Sersen was rated 43rd among North American skaters at the end
of season rankings by CSB, but shoulder problems, which saw him play just 45
games, saw him slip a little bit in the draft.
The Pens certainly don’t mind being able to get Sersen later
than some expected him to be available.
While playing on the Rimouski Oceanic, a team that was perhaps the most
watched in junior hockey this year because of his teammate Sidney Crosby,
Sersen rarely was noticed by scouts, which the Pens scouting staff saw as one
of his assets, citing he’s a defenseman that doesn’t make many mistakes.
CSB and others believe Sersen has a good deal of untapped
offensive upside. CSB’s scouting report
on Sersen indicates that he uses strong skating to jump into the play when he
sees fit and that he has a cannon of a point shot that he must start to use
Defensively, while Sersen has said he enjoys the more
physical North American game, he does not play overly physical. He uses his big frame effectively to lean on
opponents along the boards, and is very adept with his stick checking, poking
the puck away from opposing players and then using his speed to pounce on the loose
puck. Sersen will return to Rimouski
for another season.
6’3”, 201 lbs
Round 6, 164th overall
Moises Gutierrez is already a big kid for someone who just
recently turned 18, but despite his tall frame he can skate very well. He had a limited role with the Kamloops
Blazers, scoring seven goals and assisting on 12 others for a total of 19
points in 71 games. However, he did
help Team USA win the U18 gold medal in 2003.
Gutierrez has a similar story to that of Scott Gomez. He is of Mexican ancestry, and his family
moved to Alaska and he picked up hockey.
Gutierrez decided to go the route of the CHL much like Gomez. Unfortunately for the Pens, it is unlikely
Gutierrez will jump directly to the NHL after just two WHL seasons and put up
70 points in his rookie season.
Gutierrez has solid puck handling skills but needs a good
deal of refinement at this point to his offensive game. He will return to Kamloops for the 2004-05
season and should see more ice time.
5’11”, 180 lbs
Round 7, 194th overall
Yet another player picked directly out of high school and
another offensive minded player, though Chris Peluso is a defenseman. He is the nephew of former NHL enforcer Mike
Peluso. Chris is a puck moving
defenseman who can create both of his own rushes and from making a long outlet
pass to break out the forwards quickly.
The Penguins scouting staff has been aware of Peluso for
nearly a decade, as he was around the arena in previous years when they first
started to scout at Brainerd, which the team feels is a testament to his work
ethic. He’s undersized right now for a
defenseman, which isn’t necessarily a problem for the type of game played by
Peluso, but it certainly wouldn’t help him make it to the NHL. However, the Penguins think he isn’t done
growing yet, hoping the size in his family was passed down to him.
Peluso will transfer to the USHL next season, playing for
Sioux Falls Stampede and most likely will be offered a college scholarship at
that point. Peluso is another project
pick but if he continues to work at his game, he could carve himself a niche
with the Pens four or five years down the road.
5’11”, 167 lbs
Round 7, 222nd overall
Jordan Morrison was a highly coveted player in the 2002 OHL
bantam draft, being selected 12th overall by the Peterborough Petes
at that time. However, one glance at
his biography tells you the reason he fell to the tail end of the seventh round
in the NHL draft: he is recorded as weighing less than 170 lbs. The Pens decided to overlook his size
deficiency because Morrison is a very skilled pivot. His play with the puck had the scouts for the team very excited
about his playmaking abilities.
At 5’11”, Morrison has a lot of room to fill out in his
current frame, and if he is able to put on a significant amount of muscle,
Morrison may be a late round gem; he certainly has the skill level to wear the
label of potential steal. Morrison
turned 18 just a few weeks before the draft.
In his first season Morrison accumulated only 14 points, but in his
second OHL season, Morrison tripled his production to 45 points. The Penguins are hoping for a similar
improvement this year. However, size is
most likely to be the deciding factor with Morrison. He needs to add strength before even considering an NHL career.
5’11”, 188 lbs
Round 8, 228th overall
Notre Dame (NCAA)
Despite having an excellent freshman season at Notre Dame,
Brown was ranked 25th among North American goaltenders by CSB at the
end of season report. He finished with
a 14-7-3 record, including a GAA of 2.32 and a strong .925 save percentage
(seventh in the country). However, his
smaller stature played a role in his slipping so far in this draft, as well as
being passed over in the 2003 draft.
Brown doesn’t specifically play as a butterfly or standup
goaltender, but he does have solid overall ability. Brown, a good athlete, possesses quick reflexes and is difficult
to beat down low. He likes to challenge
shooters as they come down either side and force them into making a quick
decision, and is particularly adept with using his blocker to knock pucks into
A mentally tough competitor, Brown has shown an ability to
keep himself composed while facing situations of pressure. Despite having strong depth at goaltending
with Marc-Andre Fleury, Sebastian Caron, and Andy Chiodo already under
contract, the Pens are happy to be able to pick Brown, especially so late.
6’0”, 185 lbs
Round 9, 259th overall
Brown University (NCAA)
Brian Ihnacak slipped a great deal on draft day as well, as
he was ranked 44th among North American skaters by CSB in their
final rankings. This is a bit
surprising as Ihnacak was coming off an excellent freshman season with the
Brown University Bears where he played in all 31 games, scoring ten goals and
assisting on 20 others. His performance
earned him ECAC Co-Rookie of the Year honors and a spot on the ECAC All-Rookie
Brown head coach Roger Grillo told Hockey’s Future that
Ihnacak’s strengths lie in his offensive skills. He describes Ihnacak as a pure goal scorer who is extremely
dangerous anytime he has the puck in the offensive zone. Ihnacak is described as a player with good
instincts who always seems to be able to find himself in the right place at the
right time. He also sets up his
teammates well, using his deceptive speed to get himself room to make the
plays. Ihnacak needs to work on
consistently putting out the same effort, but that should come with
experience. He also needs to get
Ihnacak is another player picked by the Pens in 2004 with
NHL bloodlines. Ihnacak is the son of
former Maple Leaf center Peter Ihnacak, and is the nephew of Miroslav Ihnacak,
a former Maple Leaf and Red Wing. Brian
represented Slovakia in the 2003 U18 championships, and finished tenth in the
tournament in scoring. Ihnacak has the
offensive skills to be a potential steal.
The 2004 draft yielded much of what the organization was in
need of. Overall the Penguins selected
eight forwards, three defenseman, and one goaltender. All of the eight forwards picked possess good offensive skills,
and all three defensemen project to be offensive defensemen. Almost all of the 11 skaters selected by the
Penguins are described as being strong to excellent skaters as an emphasis
appears to have been placed on mobility.
The only two players picked directly out of Europe were the
first two selections made by the Penguins, Malkin and Salmonsson, although
Sersen and Ihnacak are both Europeans picked from playing in North
America. There was a tendency to lean
towards prospects which won’t be ready for several years as well, with three
players (Goligoski, Gifford, and Peluso) all being selected directly out of the
USHSW and Johnson coming from the AJHL meaning at least four players will
either be playing in the USHL or as freshman in the NCAA next season. The team drafted four players out of the CHL
and their final two picks came from the NCAA.
In the late rounds of the draft the Penguins did well to
select players with relatively high levels of potential, grabbing a few players
that slipped in the draft or those that had high skill levels and were passed
over for reasons such as size, in hopes that the young players will grow.
Overall it was a good draft for the 2004 system as they
picked players which addressed the primary concern of the organization:
offense. However, none of the players
picked are expected to suit up for the Penguins during the 2004-05 season, and
only Malkin has a real chance to play with the team in 2005-06. The Penguins are going to have to wait a few
years to see the results of this draft, but the potential is there for this to
be remembered as a very good draft for the organization.
DJ Powers, Eugene Belashchenko, Johan Nilsson, Eric J. Welsh, and Eric
Forest contributed to this report.