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Pens' GM Shero proved himself with Staal pick

| Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The first collection of Penguins he generally managed was bounced from the playoffs in five frustrating games. But all things considered, Ray Shero can live with it.

"I guess every game that Ottawa wins we feel a little bit better about ourselves," Shero said Monday.

The Senators will play next for the Stanley Cup.

Shero has moved on to evaluation for the NHL draft, which is June 22-23 in Columbus, Ohio.

He was still the assistant GM in Nashville at this time a year ago (Shero officially was named to replace Craig Patrick on May 25). And he conducted his first Penguins draft with a scouting staff that was destined, for the most part, to be jettisoned.

In round one, second overall, Shero came up with Jordan Staal.

The brother of Carolina Hurricanes forward Eric Staal, Jordan was rated second among North American skaters in the final Central Scouting ratings. But he was no slam dunk.

The player selected just after Staal, Jonathan Toews, became the first Canadian-born player to win gold medals at the World Junior Championships and the World Championships in the same year this season. Toews has since joined the Blackhawks after a spectacular sophomore season at the University of North Dakota (18 goals and 46 points in 34 games) and is considered an eventual candidate for captain by Chicago GM Dale Tallon.

The player selected fifth overall in 2006, Phil Kessel, jumped immediately from the University of Minnesota to the Boston Bruins and recorded 11 goals and 29 points around a bout with testicular cancer.

And the player rated second among European skaters by Central Scouting, Michael Frolik, was a native of Kladno, Czech Republic, and nicknamed "The Baby Jagr."

So Shero had options.

But once Erik Johnson went first overall to St. Louis, Shero zeroed in.

"He was the guy that I had in my mind on going in," Shero said. "Jordan was a combination of too many things to pass up.

"We talked about his pedigree, his background, his brothers. That really didn't play into it too much, quite honestly. It was more I was drafting Jordan Staal, not his brothers."

Staal went on to score 29 goals, including an NHL-leading seven short-handed.

Shero anticipated none of that coming as quickly as it did, but he was smart enough to recognize a keeper when he saw one.

Had Shero instead rubber-stamped Staal's return to the OHL, Staal may have done nothing more significant in 2006-07 than join Toews as a World Junior Championships-winning Canadian. And the Penguins might not have sniffed the playoffs, let along be feeling better by the day about their elimination.

Shero's flexibility set a tone along the way of exceeding expectations.

He'll approach his first draft with his guys doing the scouting the same way, searching for characteristics more than a specific pedigree or position.

"I always look back at the 1999 draft, Ottawa got Martin Havlat at No. 25 or 26, that was an impact player, a guy with big upside that they took later in the first round," Shero said. "That's everybody's dream pick later in the first round."

Havlat went 26th to Ottawa in 1999.

The Penguins took Konstantin Koltsov 18th.

Shero isn't yet certain who his Havlat might be or who'll be available as potential candidates, but he knows what he's looking for.

Picking 20th instead of second isn't enough to alter an approach that works.

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