Penguins: Hard to overlook maturing Veilleux


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His is not the first name that comes up when the category is young forwards who might crack the Penguins' lineup at some point in 2010-11.

That spot is held by winger Eric Tangradi, an emerging power forward who showed strong flashes of his potential in drills and a three-on-three scrimmage Friday at the team's development camp practice at Southpointe -- including a nice goal off an end-to-end rush.

But perhaps Keven Veilleux is ready to throw himself into the conversation.

For an already towering guy, Veilleux has done a lot of growing the past year. That would be a little physically --from 6 feet 5 a year ago to 6-5 1/2 now -- and a lot in other ways.

"I think he's growing into what he has and realizing that he does have that great set of tools to work with," said Todd Reirden, who coached Veilleux in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season and is overseeing the prospect camp this week. "I think it's all about confidence and how he carries himself."

Even with his size, Veilleux, who is 218 pounds, has had to learn to look beyond the considerable skill that allowed him to average nearly two points a game his final year of junior hockey. He is pushing to play with a physical presence and trying to have a bit of a snarl despite a shy, unassuming personality.

"I tried to work on that last year. I had two fights and I tried to finish my checks all the time," Veilleux, a second-round draft pick in 2007, said. "That's just going to help me in my game if I do that."

Those two fights came in just nine games for the center-turned-winger. That is all he played with Wilkes-Barre in his first pro season because of season-ending left shoulder surgery.

Reirden believes the disappointment of sitting out and the energy Veilleux had to put into rehabilitation likely was good for him, especially since he saw the soft-spoken French-Canadian coming out of his shell in the short span before the injury.

"Despite the fact that Keven only played nine games last year, I think there was a lot of growth both on and off the ice, the commitment it takes to play in the American Hockey League," Reirden said.

"He came to us after a ton of success in the Quebec [Major Junior] League, great stature and size. Now, how was that going to transfer to the pro game? In the nine games that we had a chance to coach Keven, we saw a ton of growth.

"With the shoulder surgery, you go through some adversity. He was frustrated. Now he comes back and he does make a commitment. He's in excellent shape. I can tell you that what he looked like when I saw him when he left Wilkes-Barre to when he showed up now, he looks quite a bit different."

Veilleux, who has been working out in Montreal with Stephane Dube, a former Penguins conditioning coach, said he is fully healthy.

He also has been honing his English. Although he still instinctively warns those who approach him that it is not very good -- something that seems to be more of a defense mechanism than a true concern -- he said better communication skills have helped boost his confidence.

"I can listen to everything now," he said.

What coaches, trainers, strength coaches and anyone else with Veilleux's ear have been saying goes something like this: In junior hockey, it was easy to be dominant with that skill and size, but it takes more than that at the pro level.

"You can educate these kids on nutrition and conditioning ... but the bottom line is, you have to do it," said Tom Fitzgerald, Penguins assistant to the general manager and one of the camp instructors. "You have to do it with conviction and passion. You have to believe in it. We can't want them to be hockey players more than them because that won't work. It just won't work.

"Keven, first impressions, he came and you can tell he's worked out this summer, and he's worked hard. That's the growth and development of all these kids from one year to the next. Keven right now, hopefully, has figured out, [after] everything we've tried to teach these kids over the past few years, that he wants to be a hockey player."

Who knows where Veilleux might be if he had gotten to play something close to a full season in 2009-10?

If he stays healthy, and his confidence and experience levels continue to rise, there always is the chance the Penguins will give him a shot this season. Or he can set himself up as the Tangradi of next year.

"One more year of confidence and building -- we're looking for really big things from him this year," Reirden said.

If winger Keven Veilleux stays healthy, and his confidence and experience levels continue to rise, there always is the chance the Penguins will give him a shot this season.


For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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