Picard likes team's offensive approach; staff likes his skills
September 18, 2011 4:00 AM
Sidney Crosby participated in the Penguins' first practice of training camp Saturday and these fans wanted to capture it with the cameras on the cell phones.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It is not that Alexandre Picard did not have choices.
Several teams wanted to sign him this summer.
Some likely offered more money.
A few might have promised more security.
Picard said he did not decide to accept the Penguins' proposal of a one-year deal that will pay him $600,000 -- but only if he cracks the NHL roster-- because of money or term or any other contract detail.
He did it solely on the basis of what Picard describes as "a gut feeling," a belief that his talents would dovetail better with the Penguins' style of play than any other club pursuing him. Well, almost any of them.
"The final decision came down to two teams," Picard said. "It was pretty much the same situation, like flipping a coin in the air.
"It was a tough decision, but I'm pretty sure I made the right one."
He certainly did not select the Penguins because of a lucrative minor league clause, since he will be paid a relatively modest $105,000 if he plays for their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre.
And he did not do it because he is a lock to be on the major league roster, considering that seven defensemen have one-way contracts, which pay NHL salaries regardless of whether they are working there or not.
"I just felt it was a team that would fit my style of play," Picard said.
"I talked to [general manager] Ray Shero before I made my decision.
"He laid it all out on the line. He didn't make me any promises. He told me what their expectations were going to be."
There is no secret about what the Penguins hope to get from Picard.
They are looking for him to move the puck out of their defensive zone efficiently, to fuel the transition game on which so much of their success hinges.
"It fits with the game they're trying to play here, an offensive game," Picard said.
"Breaking the puck out well, with the system they have here."
Picard, 26, had three goals and five assists in 43 games with Montreal last season. His most productive season was 2009-10, when he put up four goals and 11 assists in 54 games with Ottawa and Carolina.
Although he has good size -- Picard is listed as being 6 feet 2, 220 pounds -- he does not play a big-man's game in the defensive zone, and that likely is his greatest failing.
The Penguins, of course, are well aware of that shortcoming, but believe his assets should be able to mask it, at least to some extent.
"One of our key points, in terms of our team identity, is spending as little time in the defensive zone as we can," said assistant coach Todd Reirden, who oversees the Penguins defense.
"For us, [the emphasis is] to continue to focus on guys who can go back under pressure and make plays.
"They have to have mobility to do that, and, if you can execute that properly with your teammates, you don't have to spend a lot of time in the defensive zone. ... Hopefully, that will limit the time he has to be in those situations where he has to be overly physical. We choose to look at the things he does well."
Because of the Penguins' bounty of NHL-caliber defensemen, a player with a two-way contract -- even one management is intent on giving every opportunity to crack the major league lineup -- might be tempted to stray outside the normal parameters of his game, to try to do too much.
Picard said he recognizes the perils of that.
"That's about the worst thing you can do," he said. "You just have to play your game and be consistent."
NOTE -- Tyler Kennedy scored two goals in the first six-plus minutes of the White team's 5-1 victory Saturday in the first training-camp scrimmage. Linemates Evgeni Malkin and Steve Sullivan got one each, while Richard Park also scored for the White squad. James Neal got the only goal for Black.