Keven Veilleux faced several learning curves after he was selected by the Penguins in the second round of the 2007 NHL entry draft.
At 6 feet 4, 195 pounds, he had to figure out how to use his size to his best advantage. A natural center, he needed to make sure he was comfortable at all three forward positions to increase his chances of fitting in better and perhaps more quickly with the Penguins.
And then there was the French-Canadian's challenge of picking up a new language.
"He's a guy who took the initiative and learned English when English wasn't a strong suit for him," Dan Bylsma, coach of the Penguins' top farm affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and of the organization's ongoing prospects camp, said yesterday after the young players practiced at Southpointe.
"Two years ago, I speak no English," Veilleux, 19, said before the prospects headed to Kitchener, Ontario, where they will spend the next three days playing in a tournament with prospects from the Toronto, Ottawa and Florida organizations.
After a midseason Quebec Major Junior Hockey League trade sent him from Victoriaville to Rimouski, Veilleux took English lessons from a private tutor. That helped when he signed an amateur tryout contract with the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate and spent about a month in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last spring, and it is making the prospects camp easier.
"It's the best experience of my life," Veilleux said of the camp.
Although there are a few players who are pretty much assured they will be invited to stay for the start of Penguins training camp next week, Veilleux is among the rest who hope to play well enough in Kitchener to earn a coveted invitation to the big club's camp. Either way, he is expected to return to Rimouski for the season.
He made a handful of nice setup passes during a three-on-three, half-rink drill yesterday. With his versatility, he could be an imposing forward if he can raise his physical play to match his size.
"It happens to a lot of bigger players," Penguins assistant general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "Sometimes, it takes them a couple years to get comfortable and have their strength catch up to their size and learn how to use that size -- just learning how to protect the puck and beat defenders down low and maybe develop a little more of a power game."
Veilleux recognizes that.
"I have to work on using my size, trying to use my size for one-on-one battles," he said. "I have to get stronger."
In two-plus seasons with Victoriaville, Veilleux played mostly center, but he has been primarily at right wing with Rimouski and said he is just as comfortable on the left side.
When he was traded to Rimouski, he had 10 goals, 42 points in 42 games with Victoriaville. With his new club, Veilleux had seven goals, 22 points in 19 games down the stretch and three goals, seven points in nine playoff games.
"Keven's game took off statistically and his confidence grew, and we just noticed a tremendous improvement after he was traded," Fletcher said.
Although he didn't play with Wilkes-Barre, Veilleux spent his weeks there practicing during the AHL playoffs. Bylsma, then an assistant with the Baby Penguins, was impressed.
"He's a guy who was out 30 minutes before practice most of his days in Wilkes-Barre," he said.
"He's a big guy who can skate and make plays. You see him around the net. I expect him in the future to be a real, real strong candidate to contend here in Pittsburgh."
• What: Three-day rookie tournament in Kitchener, Ontario.
• Who: Penguins, Maple Leafs, Panthers, Senators.
• Format: Round robin.
• Penguins schedule
6 p.m. today vs. Maple Leafs
2 p.m. tomorrow vs. Panthers
2 p.m. Monday vs. Senators
Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721.