Pens' Pesonen aims to open more eyes
If Finnish forward Janne Pesonen is what he claims - a guy who likes "challenges ... going to the net ... a fighting spirit who (works) hard" - he might prove to be one of general manager Ray Shero's shrewdest acquisitions.
Not that Shero will crave even slight credit if Pesonen's star shines as brightly as it did in the Finnish Elite League, where last season he was the dominant offensive player (34 goals, 78 points) for champion Oulu Karpat.
"I've never seen him play," Shero said Wednesday before Pesonen took the ice at Mellon Arena for a late-morning practice on the opening day of training camp. "I'm as interested as anybody."
Anybody includes increasingly rabid Penguins fans, about a thousand of which attended practice yesterday - many, no doubt, wanting to see if Pesonen's act played as impressive in person as it does on YouTube.com.
"My buddies have sent me those (Internet video links)," Pesonen said. "You'll have to ask them about that."
Assistant general manager Chuck Fletcher didn't need the World Wide Web to scout Pesonen.
In fact, Pesonen is with the Penguins - on a one-year, two-way contract, as is mandatory according to the collective bargaining agreement - because Fletcher is one of his greatest fans.
Fletcher served as Anaheim's assistant general manager from 2002-06, and the Ducks selected Pesonen as the 269th pick in the ninth round at the 2004 entry draft.
Pesonen said Anaheim was not a good fit, but the Penguins may be a different story. The Penguins lost first-, second- and third-line wingers over the summer as forwards Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone and Jarkko Ruutu signed elsewhere as free agents.
Even though they added forwards Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko and Matte Cooke as replacements, Fletcher and European scout Patrik Allvin sold Shero on signing Pesonen ($875,000), who was fielding offers from other NHL clubs.
"He's not an 18- or 19-year-old kid trying to find his way," Fletcher said of Pesonen, 26. "There's not a lot of risk because, clearly, he has the skill to be successful (in the NHL). I've thought that for a long time, and talking to Janne, he's ready for the challenge of proving himself against top competition."
Pesonen averaged 0.77 points per game over parts of six seasons in the Finnish Elite League.
The Penguins dare not pencil him onto their season-opening roster, let alone for a spot on one of the scoring lines anchored by centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But coach Michel Therrien liked what he witnessed from Pesonen yesterday.
|Everybody form a line|
|Notable forward lines and defense pairings deployed by the Penguins during an intrasquad scrimmage on the first day of training camp:|
|Category||Left wing||Center||Right wing|
|Scoring line 1||Pascal Dupuis||Sidney Crosby||Miroslav Satan*|
|Scoring line 2||Jordan Staal||Evgeni Malkin||Petr Sykora|
|Scoring line 3||Ruslan Fedotenko*||Max Talbot||Matt Cooke*|
|Checking line||Janne Pesonen*||Jeff Taffe||Tyler Kennedy|
|Defense pair 1||Brooks Orpik, Sergei Gonchar|
|Defense pair 2||Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi|
|Defense pair 3||Kris Letang, Mark Eaton|
|Defense pair 4||Darryl Sydor, Alex Goligoski|
"I thought he looked pretty good," said Therrien, who lauded Pesonen's speed, conditioning and puck positioning. "But the exhibition games will give us a better look."
Pesonen skated at left wing on a line with forwards Jeff Taffe and Tyler Kennedy during an intrasquad scrimmage yesterday. He did not appear bothered by the comparatively smaller NHL ice surface or physical nature of North American hockey.
Pesonen spoke confidently of carving an identity as a European who plays like a North American, but he also acknowledged the difficult transition that awaits.
"It's the biggest challenge I can imagine," Pesonen said.
Pesonen, a four-time champion with Karpat and the 2007 playoff MVP, said he is not opposed to learning the finer points of the North American game in the AHL.
"Whatever it takes," said Pesonen, who need not clear waivers to play in the AHL. "I want to win games and be at a top level. If it's not open in the beginning of the season, maybe it's open a little bit later."