Penguins minor league report: Rookie defenseman proving an offensive asset
WILKES-BARRE — Rookie Scott Harrington's stat line with the Baby Pens this season has raised an interesting question about the development of young defensemen.
Before he was chosen in the second round of the 2011 draft, his official NHL scouting report called him a “steady eddy.” He's a solid, 6-foot-2, 205-pound shot blocker with a high hockey IQ.
Yet take out the players currently in the NHL, and Harrington is fourth on the Baby Pens in scoring with 14 points in 37 games entering this weekend. He's on pace to accrue more points this season than he did in any of his four seasons of junior hockey with the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights.
“It's been exciting,” Harrington said. “You want to be known for one part of your game being really strong compared to other players, but I think if you're a good defensive defenseman, when you chip in offensively or move the puck, it's going to make you more valuable to your team.”
How Harrington has managed to put up points isn't a mystery. His goals and half his 12 assists have come on the power play. He also makes a good first pass, as nine of his 14 points are second assists.
But it prompts the question: Might NHL teams be better off drafting stay-at-home defensemen and encouraging them to explore their offensive side than picking gifted puck rushers and teaching them how to play defense?
Should they follow the Harrington path or the Ross Lupaschuk, Kris Letang and Joe Morrow route?
Baby Pens coach John Hynes said it depends on the player.
“Sometimes you can have a guy that plays defense and you're trying to encourage him to play offense, but he doesn't feel comfortable and doesn't really buy into doing it,” Hynes said. “It's really player and personality specific.”
On opening night, the Baby Pens used four centers — Brian Gibbons, Andrew Ebbett, Nick Drazenovic and Zach Sill — who had 617 career AHL points among them.
With Drazenovic having been called up Tuesday, the four remaining centers in Wilkes-Barre — journeyman Mike Carman and Wheeling call-ups Zack Torquato, Denver Manderson and Carter Rowney — have combined for 66 AHL points entering Friday, and 56 of those belong to Carman.
“Every time you think people are going to come back or it's going to turn in a different direction, there's another injury,” Hynes said.
Baby Pens defenseman Brendan Mikkelson, a seventh-year pro with 131 NHL games to his credit, might not be the most accomplished player in his family.
His sister, Meaghan Mikkelson-Reid, is a member of the Canadian Olympic women's hockey team. She won gold in Vancouver in 2010.
Goalie Sean Maguire, a 2012 fourth-round pick, is having a trying sophomore season at Boston University.
As a freshman, Maguire went 13-8 with a .926 save percentage and split starts evenly with classmate Matt O'Connor. This season, O'Connor has started 14 of BU's 20 games and Maguire is 0-6 since an Oct. 11 victory over UMass.
Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.