Penguins' young defensemen hope to stick around
By Josh Yohe
Published: Saturday, July 20, 2013, 10:57 p.m.
Most professional sports teams refer to talented, young players in their organizations as prospects.
The Penguins prefer the tag “assets,” and have treated them as such during the past five years, dangling several such players in trades.
Do the future Penguins who gathered at this week's Prospect Camp feel like assets?
So far, they haven't developed a complex.
“I don't think it makes much sense to spend a lot of time thinking about it,” defenseman Scott Harrington said. “We're all aware of it, but I think we're just doing our best to show the Penguins that we're getting better. Of course, we all want to play in Pittsburgh.”
Being a talented, young defenseman has often earned a ticket out of Pittsburgh.
Former first-round pick Ryan Whitney, a foundation piece of a 2007 Penguins team that reached the postseason for the first time in the Sidney Crosby era, was traded in 2009.
Alex Goligoski, once considered the power-play quarterback heir apparent to defenseman Sergei Gonchar, was traded in 2011.
Joe Morrow, the team's first-round pick in 2011, was dealt to Dallas in March.
The Penguins don't hide the reality that part of their preference for drafting defensemen is that their trade value is often magnified. Standouts such as forwards James Neal and Chris Kunitz have been the return in such trades.
Top prospects such as Harrington, Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta attempt to ignore the recent history of deals.
“I really don't let it creep into my mind all that much,” said Pouliot, the eighth overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
A talented, slick-skating defenseman, Pouliot's skill set is eerily similar to that of so many defensemen traded in previous years. Whitney, Goligoski and Morrow were highly regarded offensive defensemen.
Pouliot is aware of this and interested in letting Penguins management know that trading him wouldn't be wise.
“If I get traded, I get traded,” he said. “That's the team's decision, not mine. But I will say that I'm going to do everything in my power to play here soon.”
If recent history suggests the Penguins' blue-chip, blue-line talent shouldn't make any real estate ventures in Western Pennsylvania just yet, the team's depth chart at the NHL level probably isn't reassuring, either.
Kris Letang is locked up with the Penguins for almost a decade. Rob Scuderi just signed a four-year contract. Paul Martin still has two years remaining on his deal, and Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo likely will be Penguins property for many more years.
Brooks Orpik only has one year left on his contract, but the Penguins could opt to give the veteran a new deal. Matt Niskanen and Deryk Engelland are still on the NHL roster, too.
So, how does a young player expect to break in with the Penguins?
“I compare it to my time in London,” said Harrington, referring to his junior years with the Ontario Hockey League power. “We always had really good teams. Sometimes, the young guys had to wait their turn. It's just the way it is when you're playing with a good team.”
Maatta, Harrington's teammate in London, likely was the finest player in this week's camp. He's only 18, but Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald acknowledged “it will be a tough decision” whether Maatta returns to London or cracks the Penguins lineup in September.
Harrington, too, will be hoping to play in Pittsburgh and likely will find himself in Wilkes-Barre to begin the season.
They'd like to be teammates again, this time at the NHL level.
“That stuff (trade rumors) goes around,” Maatta said. “I don't focus on it.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.
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