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Draft looks quiet for Penguins

| Friday, June 20, 2008

OTTAWA -- Early to rise on Thursday, Penguins director of amateur scouting Jay Heinbuck continued preparing for an NHL entry draft in which he is not scheduled to pick a prospect until the fourth round.

That would be Saturday - meaning Heinbuck and his staff expected to watch the proceedings tonight at Scotiabank Place, where the first round is scheduled to begin around 7 p.m.

"It's a strange feeling," Heinbuck said. "As of now, we're just sitting at our table for the first three rounds. But a lot of teams would love to be in that position, because we're in that position after our team went to the Stanley Cup final."

The Penguins surrendered their 2008 first-round pick to Atlanta on Feb. 26 as part of the package to snag right wing Marian Hossa and forward Pascal Dupuis. They lost their second-round pick that day, too - sending it to Toronto for defenseman Hal Gill.

Acquiring right wing Georges Laraque from Phoenix at the 2007 trade deadline cost the Penguins their third-round pick for this draft.

Those players, three of 12 from the Cup final roster set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, were pivotal in helping the Penguins come within two victories of a championship.

Center Evgeni Malkin carried his fair share of that load.

Malkin spent yesterday in Russia with his family, but he was the focus of speculation-fueled buzz. Canada's capital city awoke to an Ottawa Sun report that Penguins general manager Ray Shero has offered Malkin to the Los Angeles Kings for a package that would include rights to pick second in the draft.

Shero is not commenting on off-season dealings and never makes a habit of addressing trade rumors.

Malkin's agent JP Barry told the Tribune-Review there is no validity to the Sun's report.

Conversations with numerous parties independent of the Penguins and Malkin's camp indicate there is virtually no chance of a trade. The Penguins can sign Malkin to a contract extension on July 1, and it is widely believed the sides will agree on a long-term deal not long after that date. Shero and Barry are expected to meet this weekend at the draft.

If the Penguins were open to dealing Malkin, they would surely request a royal ransom from the Kings, who own the rights to top defense prospect Jack Johnson - the third overall pick in 2005.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was the first overall pick that year. He and Johnson are close friends.

Landing the second overall pick in this draft would put the Penguins in position to choose from a group of four top defensemen prospects, according to International Scouting Services general manager Matt Ebbs.

"We think the second pick will be Zach Bogosian (Peterborough, Ontario Hockey League)," Ebbs said. "But that's not to say it won't be Drew Doughty (Guelph, OHL), Luke Schenn (Kelowna, Western Hockey League) or Alex Pietrangelo (Niagara, OHL).

"Those four comprise a group of defensemen any team would want. Bogosian and Pietrangelo are the full package. Doughty is more offensive, and Schenn more stay-at-home."

Ebbs labeled defense as a "strong point" in the first round, which will be wrapped up tonight, with the remainder of the draft scheduled for Saturday. ISS has 12 defensemen ranked among the top 30 players. The NHL's central scouting bureau has placed 15 defensemen among its best 30.

"It's a pretty deep draft (for defense)," Heinbuck said. "And there are some obvious names (overall) that go fairly deep."

Heinbuck, Ebbs and most everybody within the NHL expect center Steve Stamkos (Sarnia, OHL) to be the first selection. He is a consensus No. 1-rated player by central scouting and other independent scouting services such as ISS.

Tampa Bay, which won the Cup in 2004, is slated to select first overall and is not expected to move from that position.

Reportedly on the verge of signing star center Vincent Lecavalier to a lengthy contract extension, Ebbs said Stamkos will give Tampa Bay another franchise-caliber player.

"He is that type of player, and I think he'll play this season," Ebbs said. "I wouldn't call him a perfect specimen. But he is strong overall - gifted offensively with a strong attention to defense. You talk to him, and you kind of go, 'Wow!' He's got that gift combination of skill and poise for an 18-year-old."

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