Prospects conforming to 'the Penguins way'
Europeans, Americans and Canadians in Penguins uniforms worked feverishly at Penguins rookie camp last week at Consol Energy Center while general manager Ray Shero, wearing a Team USA shirt, proudly looked on.
Shero couldn't care less which nations his players hail from, so long as they play hockey the American way.
Or, make that the Penguins way.
Really, they are one and the same. Shero and coach Dan Bylsma passionately speak of what it means to "be a Penguin," and while it means something different to everyone, the roots of American hockey shine through.
"We will bypass certain players who might be rated higher in the draft just because we want to draft players and people who we think are Penguins," Shero said. "It's that important to us."
Herb Brooks' 1980 U.S. Olympic team will always be the modern day launching point for American hockey, and there are similarities with these Penguins. Brooks' team didn't have many superstars, and after Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were lost for the season with injuries, it was the Penguins who were forced to win games without star power.
And they did it, recording a remarkable 106 points without their stars.
Tom Fitzgerald, the assistant to Shero, is convinced that the Penguins' penchant for acquiring a certain type of player is precisely how they managed such a magical regular season.
"Look at what we did without Sidney and Geno," Fitzgerald said. "We competed every night and we played the right way. You can do that when you have the right kind of players. That's what being a Penguin is."
Shero added that the game has changed significantly in three decades, but that certain philosophies remain relevant to winning games. Give Shero and Bylsma a team with speed and competitors, and they believe they can win.
Certain physical attributes jump out at Shero and his staff. A fast player with a knack for delivering hits might impress the Penguins more than a skilled player with size.
Think Chris Kunitz.
"Oh yeah," Shero said with a smile. "Chris Kunitz is a Penguin."
The Penguins are littered with speedy, feisty players on the NHL level and throughout their system.
Being a Penguin, though, is far more than an array of physical gifts.
Competitive people, some of whom weren't even drafted, comprise Bylsma's lineup. Such players also made their presence felt at rookie camp. Kunitz and Mark Letestu are a couple of Penguins who weren't drafted, and yet they contribute.
"Look at Zack Sill," Shero said of the forward prospect. "Wasn't drafted, but just a total Penguin."
Bylsma seemed pleased with the players on hand at rookie camp, and noted that such a blueprint has been successful for the organization.
"Lots of Penguins out there," Bylsma said. "Lots of Pittsburgh Penguins."
He wasn't stating the obvious, of course.
The coach and general manager, both Americans, welcome players from all backgrounds. But that same work ethic, speed and tenacity that Brooks identified as the proper way to play hockey is quite evident.
"We like our team a certain way," Shero said. "I want fast and aggressive. That's what Dan wants. We believe it is a formula that can always work."Additional Information:
Name • Position
Ray Shero • General manager
Tom Fitzgerald • Assistant to the general manager
Dan Bylsma • Head coach
Todd Reirden • Assistant coach
Tony Granato • Assistant coach
John Hynes • Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach
Bill Guerin • Player development coach