ShareThis Page

Penguins prospects dream of big shot

| Wednesday, July 22, 2009

One of these years, the Penguins are bound to look inward for some wingers to play next to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

The four spots next to those guys have been manned largely by veterans, many of the quick-fix, free-agent variety. That likely will be the case again next season.

But, one of these years ...

"It's my dream to play with guys like that — Crosby or Malkin," said 20-year-old forward Keven Veilleux, who was among 26 the players to begin Penguins prospects camp Tuesday.

A second-round pick from 2007, Veilleux speaks limited English. His eyes spoke for him at the mention of Crosby and Malkin; they lit up like a scoreboard.

Veilleux wasn't alone, as the question went around the locker room at Mellon Arena: Ever think about playing next to "Geno" or Sid?

"That's what I'm hoping for, down the road," said 20-year-old forward Casey Pierro-Zabotel, a third-round pick from 2007.

"That's motivation in itself," said 20-year-old Eric Tangradi, the strapping left winger acquired with Chris Kunitz from Anaheim.

"That's my goal," said another 20-year-old left winger, Luca Caputi, a fourth-round pick from '07. "(The Penguins) have to develop within because of the salary cap. They've drafted well, and they have a lot of money invested in the core, so they have to have draft picks and prospects step in."

Jay Heinbuck, the Penguins' director of amateur scouting, was asked to identify the leading candidates, among those present yesterday, to someday play alongside Crosby and Malkin.

"Oh, geez, you can't put me on the spot like that," Heinbuck said, laughing. "These guys are gonna read that!"

He relented, somewhat.

"We have a lot of guys," he said. "It's funny, because it's an interesting mix. You have guys like Tangradi, with skill and power to his game, and Caputi, who has a lot of grit and determination and a good amount of skill. Then you have Veilleux, who is naturally a centerman. Does he shift over and play wing because he's so big and skilled?"

Pierro-Zabotel, who led the Western Hockey League in scoring, also is a natural center but is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and could be converted. Heinbuck cautioned that any such conversions could be years away.

Meanwhile, Tangradi and Caputi might get their shot sooner, though Tangradi still is recovering from a gruesome injury sustained in an Ontario Hockey League playoff game. A tendon was severed in his left wrist when he collided with a goaltender.

Tangradi is scheduled for additional surgery next week to loosen scar tissue in his thumb. He expects clearance to practice full-tilt shortly after that.

"They said a small procedure would loosen the scar tissue and give me full range of motion with my shot," Tangradi said. "I probably won't have feeling back in my thumb for a while, (because of) nerve damage, but like I've said, who needs to feel their thumb, right?"

Tangradi had 38 goals and 88 points in 55 games with the OHL's Belleville Bulls.

Caputi, who had 18 goals and 45 points in 66 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, said he has added 10 pounds of muscle. He learned during his brief NHL audition last season that he wasn't strong enough.

"When I was 192 pounds going to the corner with (then-Montreal Canadiens defenseman) Mike Komisarek, it was like, 'This guy's going to throw me through the boards,' " Caputi said.

Nobody has to tell Heinbuck that many of the team's prospects have a similar dream.

"There are some guys looking at themselves and saying, 'If I perform well and work hard, hey, that's my ticket, if I could ever get up to play with (Crosby or Malkin),' " Heinbuck said. "And Jordan Staal would be a nice guy to play next to, too."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.