Penguins' draft focus remains thinking forward



A capsule look at the five players the Penguins drafted this weekend (the Penguins had no selections in the second or third rounds):

 

1st Round: Kasperi Kapanen

Birth date: July 23, 1996

Height: 6 feet

Weight: 181 pounds

Position: Right wing

2013-14 stats: Seven goals and 7 assists in 47 games with Kalpa (Finland)

 

4th Round: Sam Lafferty

Birth date: March 6, 1995 (in Hollidaysburg, Pa.)

Height: 6 feet

Weight: 187 pounds

Position: Right wing

2013-14 stats: Twenty-one goals and 34 assists in 25 games with Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts

 

5th Round: Anthony Angello

Birth date: March 6, 1996

Height: 6 feet 4

Weight: 190 pounds

Position: Center

2013-14 stats: Eleven goals and 10 assists in 58 games with Omaha (USHL).

 

6th Round: Jaden Lindo

Birth date: Jan. 11, 1996

Height: 6 feet 1

Weight: 203 pounds

Position: Right wing

2013-14 stats: Nine goals and nine assists in 40 games with Owen Sound (OHL).

 

7th Round: Jeff Taylor

Birth date: April 13, 1994

Height: 6 feet

Weight: 180 pounds

Position: Defense

2013-14 stats: Three goals and 13 assists in 41 games with Union College.

PHILADELPHIA — General manager Jim Rutherford made it known well before the NHL draft that the Penguins were looking to invest their first-round choice in a forward.

Which they did.

And they seemed so pleased to land Kasperi Kapanen Friday night that they selected forwards with their next three picks, too.

They grabbed Sam Lafferty, a Hollidaysburg, Pa, native and right winger, in Round 4, then used their fifth-rounder on center Anthony Angello and their choice in the sixth round on right winger Jaden Lindo.

Their run on forwards finally ended when they took Union College defenseman Jeff Taylor in Round 7, but the Penguins certainly appeared intent on picking up centers and wingers at almost every opportunity.

But that, assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald said, simply proves that looks can be deceiving.

While it seemed as if the Penguins made a point of focusing on forwards this weekend, Fitzgerald said he thinks it is a coincidence they ended up with so many.

That they did, he suggested, was a combination of how this prospect pool was dominated by forwards, and how selections made before the Penguins' choices played out.

"Defensemen, we had them sprinkled in [the prospect-rating list], too," he said.

There just never seemed to be one at the top of that list when it was the Penguins' turn to choose.

Their most intriguing selection is Kapanen, who the Penguins had seventh on their prospects list but who still was available to them at No. 22.

He is speedy and skilled, and has the potential to fill a top-six role in the NHL someday.

"That's what you get with first-round picks," Fitzgerald said. "You get that skill. You get that hockey sense. That's why they're first-rounders."

Kapanen, who won't turn 18 until July 23, already might be the most talented forward in the organization below the NHL level.

Although the Penguins have a number of blue-collar forward prospects who are expected to make it to the NHL eventually, there is a serious shortage of skilled wingers and centers in their developmental pipeline.

"We've got a lot of good hockey players, but are they top-two line guys?" Fitzgerald said "Josh Archibald probably isn't going to be a top-two line guy, but there's a role for a player like that."

The same, he suggested, is true of Scott Wilson. And Bryan Rust.

The Penguins have been celebrated for the high-quality young defensemen in their system, but below the pro level, that changes, Fitzgerald said.

"We're forward-heavy right now," he said. "And goaltending-heavy."

Still scarce, though, are forwards who can be offensive difference-makers. Kapanen is the first forward the Penguins have taken in Round 1 since Beau Bennett in 2010, and they hadn't taken one before Bennett since Angelo Esposito in 2007.

Factor in all of early round choices that were traded away by former GM Ray Shero when he was trying to bolster his lineup for a series of playoff runs, and it's no surprise that most of the forwards in their system project into third- and fourth-line roles.

"It gets harder when you are [trading] second and thirds," Fitzgerald said. "But that's part of the business. We're here to win every year.

"If we need to add a piece or two, those pieces don't come for nothing. They cost."

The Penguins hope Kapanen will be ready to contend for a top-six job in a few years.

They seem cautiously optimistic that Lafferty -- who will play for Tri-City in the United States Hockey League next season, then enroll at Brown University -- might fill a similar niche someday.

"We've got a long-term project with some good speed that we get to try to develop into a Pittsburgh Penguin," Fitzgerald said.

Three of the Penguins' five selections -- Lafferty, Angello and Taylor -- are either in college or planning to go, and that's no coincidence.

The Penguins like having prospects go to college because there are more practices than in major-junior, and because they get to watch those players for four years rather than two before deciding whether they merit a contract.

"These [college] kids are on a marathon-type path," Fitzgerald said. "It's a hard league for a 20-year-old.

"So when these kids come out of college at 22, we feel they have a better chance to become the player we think they are."

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.


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