Molinari on the Penguins: Prospects are important as much for what they can bring to a team off the ice as well as on


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The Penguins have, by most accounts, a fairly average collection of prospects in their developmental pipeline.

There are several promising defensemen, headlined by Derrick Pouliot, a contingent of forwards who might be able to fill blue-collar roles in the NHL someday and a couple of goalies, Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray, who seem to be progressing nicely.

At the very least, there is enough talent that the Penguins' player-development personnel are upbeat about how their depth chart outside the NHL looks.

"We feel real fortunate about where we are," assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said a few days ago. "And how the cupboard is stocked at all positions, quite honestly."

No one is going to mistake the Penguins' collection of young players outside the NHL with that of, say, Anaheim or Tampa Bay or Buffalo, among others, but there are plenty who look like they have a legitimate shot at competing in the NHL eventually.

Of course, whether they'll do it for the Penguins is another matter.

The Penguins have drafted plenty of guys who made it to the NHL since Ray Shero replaced Craig Patrick as general manager in 2005. Many, however, are drawing paychecks elsewhere now.

A rundown of Shero's draft choices who are still with the Penguins and those now in the NHL, but with another club.

2006: None with Penguins. C Jordan Staal (Carolina), D Brian Strait (New York Islanders) and G Chad Johnson (Boston) are on other teams.

2007: D Robert Bortuzzo with Penguins. D Jake Muzzin (Los Angeles). Also gone are LW Luca Caputi, D Alex Grant and LW Dustin Jeffrey.

2008: No players in NHL.

2009: D Simon Despres and D Philip Samuelsson (briefly) with Penguins. RW Ben Hanowski (Calgary).

2010: RW Beau Bennett with Penguins.

2011: No players in NHL yet.

2012: D Olli Maatta with Penguins.

2013: No players in NHL yet.

The Penguins view prospects as assets, which is the same way they look at draft choices, and Shero hasn't been shy about parting with either when it's necessary to close out a trade he wants to make.

His biggest bargaining chip among players not yet in the NHL would be Pouliot, who is having a stellar season with Portland in the Western Hockey League, although it's hard to imagine the return that would be required to tempt Shero to send him away.

"Pouliot has had a very strong season on a very strong team," Fitzgerald said. "A team that has a culture of winning.

"Getting to the Memorial Cup [junior championships] is their goal. [Pouliot's performance is] not unexpected, though. We expect him to have a good year, because he's a very good player."

Although Pouliot, a first-rounder in 2012, put up 65 points in his first 56 games with the Winterhhawks, Fitzgerald said it was during his appearance with Canada at the world junior championships that his overall game made its greatest strides.

"His play away from the puck, front-of-the-net coverage, engaging physically," Fitzgerald said. "We know he can move the puck. We know he can shoot the puck. We know he has very good vision.

"It was the other aspects of his game he needed to round out. The world juniors allowed him to be thrust into those types of roles, the [working on the] top [penalty-killing unit].

"[When the team was down, he'd play. When it was up, he'd [be used to] hold leads. For us, as an organization, it was great to see him continue to round his game out at that level, the highest level on the junior stage."

And, presumably, to see Pouliot solidify his place atop an increasingly strong group of prospects.

The week ahead

Today: vs. Philadelphia ... It certainly has the potential to be an interesting afternoon at Consol Energy Center. It usually is when a couple of scorpions get dropped into the same bottle for the second day in a row.

Tuesday: vs. Dallas ... The Stars' 3-0 victory at the American Airlines Center Jan. 25 showed what they're capable of when their game is in sync.

Thursday: at Detroit. If any more Red Wings centers are injured, they might have to start pulling guys off the street to fill in.

Saturday: vs. Tampa Bay ... The Penguins get their first look at the Lighting since former New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan replaced Martin St. Louis on Tampa Bay's roster.


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