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Injury problems find Baby Pens' Veilleux again

WILKES-BARRE — Keven Veilleux, a second-round pick in the 2007 draft, is an intriguing prospect because he has a rare mix of hands and grit on a 6-foot-5 frame. At this rate, though, injuries may keep him from ever fulfilling his potential.

Veilleux hurt his left knee in a preseason game Sept. 30. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach John Hynes said he needs surgery and will be out six months.

It's the second major injury in Veilleux's three-year pro career. He played only nine games as a rookie because of shoulder surgery.

Veilleux was seventh on the Baby Pens in scoring last season with 36 points in 66 games and second on the team in penalty minutes with 122.

High-profile prospect

The prospect most closely watched in Wilkes-Barre this season is undoubtedly 2009 first-round pick Simon Despres. A 6-4, 225-pound defenseman with a long, smooth stride, Despres looks much more comfortable with the puck on his stick than most 20-year-olds do.

Still, he needs to polish his decision-making and defensive-zone work and strengthen his lower body.

"He's just got to focus on one step at a time," Hynes said. "He's a young guy. He's got great talent, but his game needs to be fundamentally sound and needs to continue to round out. With a young guy with talent like that, it comes down to learning how to work, learning what work is as a pro and how hard you have to play and practice, day in and day out."

Head-shot suspension

The Baby Pens had their first run-in with the new-and-improved Rule 48, which bans all hits in which the head is targeted and is the principal point of contact. Center Zach Sill was suspended for one exhibition game and one regular-season game for a hit that bloodied Hershey defenseman Zach Miskovic in a preseason game last weekend.

Late addition

The Baby Pens brought in an interesting player last week, signing 32-year-old Niko Dimitrakos to a tryout contract.

A skilled, undersized forward, Dimitrakos played 158 NHL games for San Jose and Philadelphia from 2002-07 before spending the past three seasons in Europe.

"He's got a great track record of being a good offensive-minded player and a good power-play guy," Hynes said. "We'll give him an opportunity to see if can come in and do things we want to do and fit into our team."

Injury report

Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who hurt his knee in the Oshawa rookie tournament last month, resumed skating and is getting closer to returning to full contact, Hynes said. Second-year pro Nick Petersen (concussion) and 6-8 defenseman Boris Valabik (knee) remain on the NHL roster because of their injuries.

Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999.

One to watch

Brad Thiessen (G)

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)

5-foot-11, 171 pounds

Acquired : College free agent (Northeastern)

How he's doing : Thiessen is the cornerstone of the Baby Pens' lineup and a great No. 3 on the organizational depth chart. Last season, he was 35-8-1 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .922 save percentage, winning AHL Goalie of the Year honors. His goal this season is to be the best netminder in the league again.

Why he might make it to the NHL : He's unflappable, controls rebounds well and handles the puck better than most 25-year-olds.

Why he might not : Brent Johnson has done such a commendable job as Marc-Andre Fleury's backup that it's easy to imagine general manager Ray Shero preferring to re-sign Johnson than hand the job to an untested rookie.

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