Despite management change, familiarity reigns for Penguins prospects
Penguins assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald said he thinks the team's culture is just fine.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach John Hynes spoke this week about ownership wanting “change” and mentioned that included “not just in the way we play but culturally and in how things went on.”
Fitzgerald, though, said he is proud of the culture that has developed during his time in Pittsburgh, especially as it pertains to the organization's dealings with young players.
The Penguins, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Wheeling Nailers reached at least the second round of their respective postseasons last season, something that gives Fitzgerald a sense of pride.
“We've had a culture here from Craig Patrick to Ray Shero to Jim Rutherford,” Fitzgerald said. “The expectations are good things. We want to teach these kids. I think our culture has always been that we're a respected organization.”
If prospect camp this week has been any indication, it appears the methodology and philosophies toward developing players that were promoted during the Shero/Dan Bylsma era remain somewhat intact.
“I think (president and CEO) David Morehouse said it at the start of the process: It's not broken,” Fitzgerald said. “Some things just needed to be changed.”
Players at prospect camp have noticed few changes.
Some drills may be different, and there is no shortage of new faces, but the on-ice tutelage and off-ice training remains comparable.
“It's been pretty similar,” defenseman Scott Harrington said. “There are some things that are different but not too much. It's been a good week.”
Fitzgerald's role hasn't changed significantly under general manager Rutherford. The Penguins covet Fitzgerald's ability to recognize young talent, develop it and be a bridge between lower levels of hockey and the NHL level.
“Change happens,” Fitzgerald said. “We're all moving on and trying to pick up the pieces and do our job. We have our own responsibilities. This development camp is one of mine. The show must go on. It's all about the kids and teaching them what it is to be a Penguin.”
Fitzgerald spoke passionately about development camp and the dangers of rushing players to the NHL. He believes the Penguins' philosophy of bringing players along slowly to the NHL is the proper one.
“Jim has been great,” he said. “He's allowed me to go down that same path.”
The only organizational change that has been evident goes hand in hand with Shero's preference for drafting college players. Shero was aggressive in acquiring fringe NHL players through free agency, allowing the Penguins to litter Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with veterans.
The plan is different now.
“We're not going out and getting July 1 free agents that can help us in Wilkes-Barre,” Fitzgerald said. “Those long-term college kids are starting to come through now. We feel like we can insulate with our young guys.”
Fitzgerald and Hynes have been the biggest presences in camp, with Rutherford and new coach Mike Johnston watching together from the Consol Energy Center seats. Assistant coaches Rick Tocchet, Gary Agnew and Mike Bales also have been on the ice daily, teaching the prospects the ropes from a playbook that isn't completely different.
“There are some little changes, and there is a new staff,” forward Adam Payerl said. “But it's very similar.”