Penguins notebook: Team scores twice with prospects who slid down draft board
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — It’s part of the lore of the NHL Draft.
A prospect a team thinks highly of begins to slide down the draft board. Scouts pound the table, passionately trying to convince their boss to do what it takes to take advantage of the unexpected good fortune.
It happened twice for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday in Vancouver.
First, they traded picks in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds to Arizona for a third-round choice they used to select winger Nathan Legare.
Later, as the draft was winding down, they traded their seventh-round pick next year for San Jose’s seventh-rounder this year and used it to take Finnish defenseman Santeri Airola.
It’s not hard to see why Legare’s availability 74 picks into the draft got the team’s scouts excited. He’s a legit scorer who netted 45 goals in 68 games for Baie-Comeau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season. Some projections had him going in the first round.
“He’s got a shooting mentality, and he’s a super-competitive kid,” head scout Patrik Allvin said. “He plays the right way. He goes to the net, drives to the net, plays hard.”
Quebec area scout Luc Gauthier explained how the draft table discussion went down.
“At some point, Legare was pretty high on our list,” Gauthier said. “We knew we didn’t have a second- or third-round pick. Our head scout, Patrik, said we had a guy there. (General manager Jim Rutherford) started to make some phone calls to get an extra pick in the third, and there we go.”
European scouts were shocked Airola was available late in the seventh round. He’s a skilled puck mover who has been invited to Finland’s World Junior Championship camp.
“Our European guys were pounding on us and said, ‘This kid is very, very intriguing,’ ” Allvin said.
Legare’s calling card is his shot. He was third in the QMJHL last season with 271 shots on goal.
“At the end of practice, you have a couple of free minutes. It’s a thing I work on a lot,” Legare said. “Also during the summer in the backyard, I shoot a lot of pucks.”
His family’s home has a pock-marked garage door to prove it.
“I have a net, but sometimes I miss the net,” Legare said. “My dad was a little bit mad, but in the end, it paid off.”
With their first pick in the seventh round, the Penguins took a forward prospect worth noting, winger Valtteri Puustinen.
He’s 5-foot-9 and, at age 20, has been passed up in the draft before, but he was an important contributor for Finland’s gold medal-winning World Junior Championship team and scored 10 goals in that country’s top pro league last season.
The NHL and NHLPA announced the salary cap will increase to $81.5 million next season. The Penguins have about $77.6 million committed to 10 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies for next season.
It looks like a tight squeeze for the Penguins to add the salaries of restricted free agents Marcus Pettersson, Zach Aston-Reese and Teddy Blueger and still fit under the cap, but Rutherford has said on numerous occasions he doesn’t consider it a problem.
North Huntingdon native Austen Swankler did not hear his name called over the weekend in Vancouver, a possibility he was aware of coming in.
“My dad said, ‘If you don’t get drafted, you always have next year,’ and I’m taking it like that,” Swankler said earlier this week.
As the draft concluded, he made a more forceful statement on Twitter.
“Been proving people wrong my whole life,” he wrote. “Time to do it again.”
Swankler has a year in the USHL ahead of him. He has committed to Michigan after that.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .