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Pens don't intend to stray from strategy

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Joe Morrow, last year's No. 1 pick, is one of several highly touted defensive prospects in the Penguins' system. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Penguins' recent first-round picks

2011 — D Joe Morrow

2010 — RW Beau Bennett

2009 — D Simon Despres

2008 — No pick

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Josh Yohe
Saturday, June 2, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
 

TORONTO – Dropping three consecutive playoff series might yet produce a significant change in the Penguins' organization.

But it won't alter the team's drafting philosophies.

Jay Heinbuck, the Penguins' Director of Amateur Scouting, was on hand Friday for the NHL Draft Combine in Toronto and confirmed that his orders have not changed.

“I do pay attention with what's going on with the big team,” Heinbuck said. “But it really doesn't affect what we'll do in the draft.”

In other words, expect the Penguins to select the best remaining player with the 22nd pick June 22 at Consol Energy Center. Even though the Penguins possess a lack of quality forwards and a surplus of defensemen in their system, Heinbuck and general manager Ray Shero selected defensemen with the first two picks in the 2011 draft and may again later this month.

“There is no doubt,” New Jersey Devils executive vice president of hockey operations/Director of scouting David Conte said, “that the blue line is the strongest thing about this draft.”

Heinbuck agrees with Conte's assessment and isn't afraid to look to the blue line again even though the team has recently drafted blue chip defensemen Simon Despres, Joe Morrow and Scott Harrington.

“It has to be this way,” Heinbuck said. “We're in the asset business. You don't know when those assets are going to parlay onto your roster. You don't want to sacrifice taking a lesser player because of position and not come up with an asset.”

Heinbuck reinforced this team belief by relaying a story from the second round of last year's draft in Minnesota.

The Penguins had Harrington ranked slightly ahead of a forward last year, but only slightly, and forward is a need in their system.

“We discussed it at the table as a staff,” Heinbuck said. “We saw that Harrington was going to be who we had ranked highest. We asked if we wanted to do this because there was a forward right there also. We hashed it all out, and we decided Harrington was our best asset, so we took him.”

While there might be a temptation to focus solely on defensively responsible players – permitting 30 goals in six playoff games can do this – Heinbuck won't let issues at the NHL level dictate which players he favors. After all, the Penguins could be a drastically different team by the time players from this year's draft are ready to play in the NHL.

“We had a bad first round of the playoffs,” Heinbuck said. “Yes, we have to cut down on goals against. But we also did a lot of good things this year. We just want to draft as many quality players as we can. That's what you have to do.”

Josh Yohe is a reporter for Trib Total Media and can be reached at jyohe@tribweb.com.

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