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Penguins ready to wing it again in NHL draft

Penguins/NHL Videos

Friday, June 24, 2011

Enjoying one of the golden eras in franchise history is great for the Penguins but doesn't make landing a star in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft a cinch.

The Penguins, however, have identified certain players they believe could make an impact and will keep their fingers crossed that one of them slips to the 23rd pick tonight when the draft begins at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Jay Heinbuck, in his fifth season as the Penguins' director of amateur scouting, acknowledged that this year's draft class isn't particularly strong.

"There's a fall-off coming in the second round," he said. "We're just hoping one of the guys we really like is still available."

Which player the Penguins select is anyone's guess, but chances are it will be a forward. The Penguins' defensive depth is striking, both at the NHL level and in their farm system. With goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in his prime and a number of netminders thriving in the minor leagues, the Penguins seem set between the pipes.

Their gallery of star centers remains young, but the Penguins are hurting at wing. They drafted a wing — California high school standout Beau Bennett — last season and seem likely to nab another.

"We grade players based on who we think is going to be the best player regardless of their position," Heinbuck said. "But that can all change if we have two players we consider equal. If that's the case, then maybe we'll give the nod to the forward."

Although Heinbuck, general manager Ray Shero and the entire organization evaluate all prospects, the Penguins are looking for a certain type of player. Under coach Dan Bylsma, they have developed a penchant for playing a fast, physical game. Forwards with top-end speed who favor a physical style figure to be more likely to hear their names called by Shero.

"We have a whole set of criteria that we look for," Heinbuck said. "At a rookie tournament two and a half years ago, we had a nice meeting with coaches and scouts. We asked the question, 'What is a Penguin?' There's a lot of input from management, coaches and scouts. But there's no doubt that we're looking for a certain type of player."

There is no consensus on whom the Penguins might draft. One name that has popped up in the past month is Tyler Biggs, an American winger. Canadian sports network TSN's mock draft has Biggs going to the Penguins, and The Red Line Report describes the winger as "rugged, ultra tough, the most feared fighter in his class, has a heavy shot, a quick release, owns the corners, has snarling aggression and hits to intimidate."

The Penguins like him, too.

"He's big, and he can skate," Heinbuck said. "He's just tough as nails, and he can play. He's one of many strong Americans in this group."

It would not be a shock if the Penguins drafted a local product — Brandon Saad or J.T. Miller — in the first round. Saad, of Gibsonia, likely will be gone by the 23rd pick, and both he and Miller, of East Palestine, could go in the first round. Both are wingers, which would fit the Penguins' biggest need.

"I certainly wouldn't be surprised if they both go in the first round," Heinbuck said. "They are both really good, and (Whitehall goalie John Gibson) might go early as well. It's great seeing so much local talent. It's going to be an interesting night."

Additional Information:

Looking back

The Penguins' first-round picks with Jay Heinbuck as director of amateur scouting:

2007: C Angelo Esposito (20th selection)

2008: No pick; 29th selection was sent to Atlanta in Marian Hossa trade

2009: D Simon Despres (30th)

2010: RW Beau Bennett (20th)




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