Penguins hopefuls take part in camp

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Paintball and a Pirates game are possible activities for nearly two dozen Penguins hopefuls who will hit town next week.

Fun and games will be on the weeklong schedule, but so will extra skating and rigorous testing in an expanded version of the club's annual prospects camp.

"I think it's an outstanding idea to bring prospects of all different levels together," said Todd Reirden, coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton minor league team who will run the camp along with Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald, Robert Morris University men's coach Derek Schooley and Penguins conditioning coach Mike Kadar.

"This allows these guys to develop a bond at an early part of their career," Reirden said. "These are future stars of the Penguins."

The group of rookies and prospects will range from defenseman Simon Despres, the team's first-round pick in last month's NHL draft, to budding power forward Eric Tangradi, acquired from Anaheim in February in the Ryan Whitney trade, to forwards Luca Caputi and Dustin Jeffrey, who made brief appearances with the Penguins last season.

Some will head with the Penguins to a rookie tournament in Kitchener, Ontario, in September. Some will be in the Penguins' training camp. Some will end up in Wilkes-Barre or go back to their junior team. Others will go to a college team -- meaning under NCAA rules they will be paying their way to the prospects camp.

All will have a chance to get a lot and give a lot with Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, general manager Ray Shero and assistant general manager Jason Botterill watching

After orientation Monday night -- "For some of them it's their first introduction to the Pittsburgh organization, so we'll be telling them that we go about things with a certain pride, a certain passion, a certain work ethic," Reirden said -- there will be medical and fitness testing at the UPMC Sports Medicine complex on the South Side; practices, scrimmages and on-ice testing at Southpointe; and meetings and seminars at Mellon Arena.

It's a pretty extensive agenda, one that for the first time includes on-ice testing of strength, endurance and speed with instruction for boosting those elements. The young players will be on the ice four days, one more than in the past, and many of the drills will be what the Penguins do regularly in practice. That means more of an opportunity to impress the staff.

"This will give us a good viewing against comparably aged players," Reirden said. "Every time you're on the ice, Dan will be there, Jason will be there, Ray -- all the people in our management will be taking in the whole camp and making evaluations.

"I haven't seen some of these guys yet, and I'll also be interested to see how guys like Luca Caputi, Dustin Jeffrey, Nick Johnson [who all played at Wilkes-Barre last season] are developing. Guys like that should be ahead of everyone else."

Some of the off-ice instruction will be straightforward, such as nutritional information and NHL security tips. Other times, there will be the outings.

"We'll have team-building exercises, creating situations where they are starting to feel connected," Reirden said. "One of the things we've got is a scavenger hunt set up to get them out in Pittsburgh and let them get to know the area a little bit."

Besides Despres, 2009 draft picks Ben Hanowski, Nicholas Petersen, Alex Velischek and Andy Bathgate are scheduled to attend the camp.

Other prospects expected are forwards Joey Haddad, Nathan Longpre, Nathan Moon, Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Zack Sill, Keven Veilleux and Joe Vital; defensemen Robert Bortuzzo, Lane Caffaro, Nicholas D'Agostino, Jonathan D'Aversa, Alex Grant, Carl Sneep, Brian Strait and Denny Urban; and goaltenders Patrick Killeen and Brad Thiessen.


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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