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Stockpiling talented forwards becomes a priority for Penguins

| Thursday, July 17, 2014, 9:05 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Penguins prospect Oskar Sundqvist practices during prospect development camp July 15, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Penguins prospect Bryan Rust takes a shot during the Prospect Developement Camp at Consol Energy Center Tuesday, July 15, 2014.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Penguins prospect Josh Archibald shoots the puck during the Prospect Developement Camp at Consol Energy Center Tuesday, July 15, 2014.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Penguins prospect Scott Wilson skates during the prospect developement camp July 15, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins' quest to acquire and develop longterm, homegrown scoring wingers for elite centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is soon going to be entering its second decade.

There's reason to believe that, at last, the search soon could bear some fruit.

“We have quite a few (recent) draft picks (at forward) that we're real excited about,” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coach John Hynes said from Penguins development camp this week.

In the Ray Shero era, the Penguins were known for drafting and developing defensemen.

Forwards? Not so much.

Setting aside Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal (each of whom never played a day of Junior or AHL hockey after being drafted by the Penguins), the organization has been lacking in producing NHL-ready forwards from within.

Ignoring their “Big Three” centers (Staal was traded in 2012), Penguins homegrown forwards have combined for 48 goals over the past three Penguins seasons — and some of those were from players skating as a fourth-line center.

The dearth of forward prospects has meant recent AHL Penguins scoring leaders were Chuck Kobasew (2014 playoffs), Tom Kostopoulos (2013-14 regular season) and Trevor Smith (2012-13), who were 32, 35 and 28 years old, respectively.

This season will be different, Hynes vowed.

“The dynamic of our team in Wilkes-Barre will change a little bit, just from the fact we won't have so many (AHL) free agents on our team to fill out those spots,” Hynes said. “(Now) we're going to be able to work with some young players, and that's exciting.”

Many of those players are in Pittsburgh this week. Some have a chance to crack the Penguins' lineup this season. Others will enter their first season as a professional at the AHL level.

Five of the organization's forwards who have exhibited varying levels of scoring touch at the major junior or NCAA level had brief auditions with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last spring: Josh Archibald, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Scott Wilson.

“Definitely a benefit for those guys,” Hynes said. “It's helped them (this week) – you see the comfort level.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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