Rookie event good start for Penguins
From left, the Penguins' Maxime Talbot, Ryan Whitney and Brooks Orpik model their team's new jerseys yesterday at the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills. The Penguins' logo and colors remain unchanged, and the tighter-fitting uniforms look pretty much the same except for slightly altered striping in places and, for this season, a shoulder patch to commemorate Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary.
Share with others:
Sure, Penguins general manager Ray Shero wishes Angelo Esposito could have been there.
Alex Goligoski, too. And Keven Veilleux.
But even though health issues will force three of the Penguins' top prospects to sit out the rookie tournament that begins tomorrow in Kitchener, Ontario -- Esposito has a groin problem, while Goligoski (shoulder) and Veilleux (sports hernia) are recovering from surgery -- Shero still believes there are benefits to having his team involved.
Like how the tournament, which also includes young players from Toronto, Ottawa and Florida, can serve as a transition to the NHL for prospects who haven't competed at that level. Of the 23 Penguins minor-league players participating, defenseman Kristopher Letang, 20, is the only one who has skated a shift in the NHL.
"It's a good head start," Shero said. "When you have younger players, when they're 18, 19, 20 or 21 years old, sometimes when they come to the main camp right away and jump right into the intrasquad games, they get overwhelmed some by the competition or intimidated by their surroundings."
The Penguins will have their front office, as well as the coaching and scouting staffs, in Kitchener, and the impression some young players make could influence whether they are invited to the club's primary training camp, which begins Sept. 13.
Shero said that he expects players with NHL contracts and/or experience with the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate to take part in the main camp "unless someone is totally out of shape and is sent directly to Wilkes-Barre's camp," but allowed that some amateur and junior players might be able to play their way into an invitation.
Esposito and Goligoski would have commanded considerable attention if they had been able to compete in Kitchener -- their performance could have given the first indication of how close they are for challenging for jobs with the Penguins -- but team officials still have a number of players they're eager to see in that setting.
Shero's list includes goalies David Brown and John Curry, guys who could contend for positions with the Penguins this fall -- Letang, Ryan Stone, Jonathan Filewich and Tyler Kennedy are on that list -- and everyone claimed in the two drafts he has overseen as GM.
Although the Penguins are participating in a rookie tournament for the first time, the concept is nothing new. One in Traverse City, Mich., has been a staple of the preseason calendar for years, and Shero and his assistant, Chuck Fletcher, had experience with them before joining the Penguins.
Baby Penguins coach Todd Richards and his assistant, Dan Bylsma, will oversee the practices and run the bench during games in Kitchener, and won't necessarily have to glance at nameplates on the back of sweaters to know which players they are addressing.
The participating clubs settled on relatively liberal standards for who can take part in the tournament, allowing players who have some professional experience to be involved. That should work to the benefit of the Wilkes-Barre veterans hoping to make a run at steady work in the NHL.
"The rules for eligibility are good, because guys like Stone and Filewich and Kennedy -- guys who have played in the minors -- are eligible to come," Shero said.
If someone in that group is especially impressive in Kitchener, or if a low-profile prospect shows more promise than anyone anticipated, the Penguins probably will be delighted they got involved. And that might enhance the chances of them doing it again in the future.
"I'm not 100 percent set that we're going to do this every year," Shero said. "We'll see how it goes."
The Penguins' new uniforms drew favorable reviews from four players last night. At least, that was their impression after wearing the sleeker, high-tech Rbk EDGE Uniform System long enough to model them on a stage in front of hundreds of fans packed into the food court of the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills.
"I like it," said defenseman Ryan Whitney, who was joined by defenseman Brooks Orpik and forwards Maxime Talbot and Ryan Malone.
"It's tighter fitting, but it's not too tight to where you can't move. I'd like to skate with it."
This is the first time a North American professional league has implemented a new uniform system for every team.
The Penguins' logo and colors remain unchanged, and the uniforms look pretty much the same except for slightly altered striping in places and, for this season, a "Pittsburgh 250" shoulder patch to commemorate the city's 250th anniversary.
Made with lightweight material that repels water and with stretch mesh in some areas, the uniforms are expected to be more comfortable for players throughout games. They might also make clutching and grabbing more difficult.
Asked if the players will be faster and more elusive in the new uniforms, Orpik smiled.
"I think that's more in your head than anything," he said. "It's just a little slimmer fitting."
Talbot said it might change the way players fight if they can't grab an opponent's jersey.
First Published September 6, 2007 12:00 am