NHL Draft: Penguins scouts wait their turn

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OTTAWA -- Forget the Penguins being shocked that the guy was still there when it was their turn to choose.

By the time they finally get to make a selection in the NHL Entry Draft this weekend, the Penguins might be a bit surprised to find out that the kid actually has played organized hockey.

Barring a trade -- something that doesn't seem to be out of the question -- there will be 119 prospects picked before the Penguins get their first opportunity to claim one.

The draft gets under way with Round 1 at 7 p.m. today at Scotiabank Place but will be well into its second session tomorrow before the Penguins are asked to announce a selection.

  • What: Round 1 of the NHL Entry Draft, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Ottawa.
  • TV: Versus.
  • Penguins: Traded their first-, second- and third-round picks. Don't have a selection until the fourth round (No. 120 overall) tomorrow.

So unless general manager Ray Shero can swing a deal that nets a selection earlier than the fourth round, the biggest challenge for his scouts might be resisting the temptation to grab a nap while the other 29 clubs are collecting young talent.

Still, Jay Heinbuck, the Penguins' director of amateur scouting, contends there are several reasons his staff won't have trouble focusing on what is going on around them, the biggest being that evaluating and ranking talent is what they do for a living.

"Even if we don't end up with a pick [tonight], that's the culmination of your year's work, and it's always interesting to just see where other teams pick guys and what they feel about players," he said. "It's actually quite fascinating, just to follow along."

Heinbuck also noted that professional curiosity isn't the only thing that will hold the scouts' attention. Should Shero obtain a pick in one of the first three rounds -- something that could happen with very little notice -- they will have to have their recommendations ready.

And even if the Penguins don't get a selection until the penultimate one in Round 4, there's always the possibility that someone taken earlier will become available via a trade or free agency in the future. That's part of the reason team officials interviewed no fewer than 77 prospects at the recent combine in Toronto.

The Penguins figure to be little more than interested onlookers for most of this draft primarily because payments on some of Shero's personnel moves over the past 16 months or so are coming due.

The Penguins sent away their first-, second- and third-round choices in this draft in deals that netted Marian Hossa, Hal Gill and Georges Laraque. Those trades helped them reach the Stanley Cup final this spring -- "We did get returns on our trades," Heinbuck said -- but also laid the foundation for a fairly forgettable weekend.

Although the Penguins have a few obvious organizational needs -- goaltending depth, for example -- Heinbuck said they don't plan to stray from their philosophy of taking the highest-rated prospect available, regardless of position.

A few years ago, the Penguins had the first or second choice in four consecutive drafts and used them to take Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal, all of whom stepped directly into the NHL, although Fleury subsequently spent time in junior hockey and the American Hockey League.

They won't get anyone like that with the 120th choice, but a few of their choices from 2007 -- guys like left winger Luca Caputi, who they got 111th overall, and center Dustin Jeffrey, who went 60 picks later -- make the point that there are quality prospects available later.

"I think we did a good job in the middle and later rounds last year, with some of the picks we had from the fourth round on," Heinbuck said. "We'd like to be able to repeat that, because we were quite satisfied with those guys."

Replicating that performance might be a lot to expect, but if the Penguins don't get some intriguing prospects from this draft, it won't be because they lacked the time to get their rankings right.

"It makes you really go over your list with a fine-toothed comb to make sure you have them in a good order," Heinbuck said. "Then, when it comes to that position in the fourth round, hopefully there's a good player sitting there."

NOTES -- The draft isn't Shero's only, or even primary, concern this weekend. He is expected to discuss new contracts with the agents for right winger Marian Hossa and defenseman Brooks Orpik, both of whom can be unrestricted free agents July 1. Shero is believed to have spoken with Orpik's agent, Lewis Gross, yesterday, although neither party confirmed it.

Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .


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