Penguins Training Camp: Pesonen's first goal: Prove he belongs in NHL
Finnish newcomer Janne Pesonen will be one of the most watched and studied players on the ice over the next week.
Share with others:
Janne Pesonen isn't the most-gifted player in the Penguins' training camp. Or the most celebrated. Or the most promising.
But he just might be the most-scrutinized guy there over the next week or so.
Mostly because no one knows where, if at all, he will fit into the franchise's plans.
It could be that, when the Penguins start the regular season Oct. 4, Pesonen will be logging quality minutes on one of their top two lines. It's also possible that when they fly to Stockholm for the opener, he'll be on a bus to Wilkes-Barre, preparing to making his North American debut in the American Hockey League.
Is he destined for stardom? To become a minor footnote in franchise history -- Rob Dopson or Harry York, anyone? -- by midseason? To have a decent, but unremarkable, career at this level?
"It's way too early to decide anything," general manager Ray Shero said yesterday, after watching the first round of training-camp workouts.
This much, however, is apparent: The potential rewards of signing Pesonen are considerably higher than the risks. He has a two-way contract, which means he will earn a significantly reduced salary if he plays in Wilkes-Barre.
Pesonen's game, built on skating and skill, seems best suited to a top-six role, but he played left wing with Jeff Taffe and Tyler Kennedy yesterday on what looked suspiciously like a fourth line.
He got the attention of management, and the hundreds of fans who attended the workout, with his speed. It was particularly evident when he split two defensemen for a breakaway in the mid-practice scrimmage, although goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and bumpy ice conspired to prevent him from scoring.
That didn't seem to upset the front office much -- "I've seen Fleury stop Jeff Carter on a breakaway, too," Shero said -- but Pesonen clearly was unhappy that he failed to convert that opportunity.
"Don't even ask," he said, smiling. "I love scoring goals and helping my team to win games. You want to score if you get a chance."
That is a subject on which Pesonen is qualified to speak. At length.
He did, after all, accumulate 34 goals and 44 assists in 56 games with Karpat in the SM-Liiga, Finland's top league, last winter.
"He looks to be a smart player," Shero said. "He's around the puck."
If Pesonen's game proves to be as impressive as his command of English -- he credits that to his schooling and interaction with former teammates who speak the language -- he will be a major contributor this season.
The transition to the NHL can be difficult, though, in part because the playing surface here is smaller than in Europe. That not only leads to more hitting, but can change the time and shooting angles an attacking player has.
Pesonen insists the smaller ice doesn't bother him -- "You can feel more in the game when you get hit," he said. "Last spring, I played a couple of games in smaller rinks, and I liked it" -- but it remains to be seen whether scoring goals will be more difficult for him here.
Pesonen said that, although he played the left side the past few seasons, he worked extensively on the right before that, so he has no qualms about playing either wing.
That kind of versatility should work to his advantage. Same with the commitment he showed, at age 26, by leaving his homeland to seek a higher level of competition.
"It's a great challenge for me," he said. "I've had a few great seasons in Europe. This is a good chance to come here. It's everybody's dream to play in the NHL someday, and I took the challenge now."
And he's doing it here, Pesonen said, because the Penguins were the best fit for his skills.
"There were a couple of other [offers from NHL clubs, but] it was obvious that I was going to come here because they wanted me," Pesonen said. "There couldn't be a better team for me in the NHL right now than the Penguins."
NOTES -- Right winger Miroslav Satan, playing alongside Sidney Crosby, scored two goals in the White team's 3-1 scrimmage victory. Max Talbot got the other White goal while Jordan Staal, working on Evgeni Malkin's left wing, scored for Black. ... Paul Bissonnette, drafted as a defenseman, skated on left wing and projects to play there in the American and National leagues, assistant general manager Chuck Fletcher said. ... Winger Luca Caputi (hip) was held out of the scrimmage, but participated in drills.
• Today and tomorrow's camp sessions and scrimmages begin at 9 a.m. at Mellon Arena and are again open to the public. The team opens its preseason schedule at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at Mellon Arena vs. Tampa Bay.
First Published September 18, 2008 12:00 am