|Author: (www.pittsburghpenguins.com)||Date: 06/28/2004
|Selection of Malkin Puts Pens' Rebuilding Program in High Gear|
|Pittsburgh hockey fans got a quick glimpse of the future on June 26 in Raleigh
when long, lean Evegni Malkin strode to the podium at the NHL draft and pulled
on a Penguins sweater.
As a singular event, the drafting of Malkin – a 6-foot-3 centerman who
is a wizard with the puck and considered by scouts to be a " complete package"
– was cause enough for celebration in an organization that has been rebuilding
in earnest for the past two years.
But there’s more where he comes from.
Viewed in the context of the past three drafts, the reconstruction of the Penguins
has rapidly shifted into a higher gear – not only because of Malkin, the
No. 2 overall pick of the 2004 draft, but because of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury,
drafted first overall in 2003, and defenseman Ryan Whitney, taken fifth overall
Yes, the Penguins have missed the playoffs for three straight years, but they
have used the resulting top-five picks to take a potentially dominant player
at each of the game’s core positions.
Could Malkin, Fleury and Whitney form the nucleus of an exciting young team
that – in the relatively near future – competes on a regular basis
for the Stanley Cup?
" It wasn’t planned that way, but any time you’re building
a team, you’re looking to build the middle with a goaltender, defenseman
and a center," Penguins scout Mark Kelley told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
" It just so happens in the last three drafts, we picked (players) who
we think can be stalwarts in each of those positions."
These things taken time, of course. Malkin is 17 years old. Fleury is 19. Whitney
is 21. The Penguins have shown considerable patience with the individual development
of their young prospects, and will continue to do so with an eye toward long-term
But given the immense potential of the three most recent first-round picks,
and the quality of other prospects sprinkled throughout all levels of the Penguins
organization, there is a growing sense that the team’s rebuilding program
is on the verge of breakthrough success.
Young players such as Ryan Malone (24), Brooks Orpik (23) and Konstantin Koltsov
(23) have established themselves as NHL regulars, while a slew of other prospects
– Tomas Surovy (22), Andy Chiodo (21), Kris Beech (23), Shane Endicott
(22) among them – helped lead the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to
the Calder Cup finals.
In the junior ranks, forward Maxime Talbot (20) was a dominant force in the
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. In college, Noah Welch (20) of Harvard is
developing into a tower-of-strength defenseman and Ben Eaves (22) just completed
his career at Boston College as a relentless, high-energy centerman. In Europe,
speedy winger Sergei Anshakov (20), acquired in the Martin Straka trade, starred
for Russia in the World Junior Championships, scoring five goals, and defenseman
Ondrej Nemec (20) progressed well enough in the Czech Elite League that he joined
Wilkes-Barre late in the regular season and played in the palyoffs.
And there are more names, more prospects. The well runs deep.
Kelley, the team’s European scout, certainly sounded excited after the
conclusion of the 2004 draft on Sunday – the latest step in the reconstruction
" Coming off of the final months of the season, when our young players
(in the NHL) really seemed to come into their own, coupled with the success
Wilkes-Barre had in the playoffs and then, these kinds of prospects that we
have, it makes us very excited about the future of the franchise," Kelley
told the Tribune-Review.
" We’re starting to speed up the whole rebuilding process, which
was our goal two years ago."
The addition of Malkin gives the Penguins’ prospect depth chart the one
thing it appeared to be lacking – a potentially dominant first-line center.
He was rookie of the year in the Russian Super League, and he was named the
top forward at the World Under-18 Championships, where he captained Russia to
the gold medal, and he has drawn raves for his total package of skills and dedication.
The Hockey News rates him a " franchise player." Scouts drool.
" He’s an unbelievable player already, and he’s only 17,"
one scout said. " You’ll love him in Pittsburgh."
The future, indeed, is bright.
Related Player Profiles: . E.Malkin
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