PITTSBURGH PENGUINS DEVELOPMENT CAMP 2013
DAY 2 ANALYSIS: DEFENSEMEN
By Dave Fryer, Contributor to InsidePittsburghSports.com
Much of the spotlight in this year’s Penguins Development Camp is heavily on the defensemen. The Penguins are loaded with defensemen that are the strength of their farm system right now, and many of those players are pushing towards time at the NHL level within the next two to three years. Unlike the first day, which was filled with drills that focused on passing and shooting, Day 2 put the defensemen on display by introducing game-type scenarios, regroup drills, and even a little bit of physical play.
*Reid McNeill was not a name many people had on their radar coming into the camp, but the defensive-minded blueliner is starting to grab some of the attention. He showed good skills with the puck in several drills and has much better hands than expected out of a defensive defenseman. He is 6-foot-4, 204 pounds as a 21-year-old, and he is only looking to get stronger. He has arranged to work with the legendary Gary Roberts. Bill Guerin stated, “Reid is one of those guys who’s very dedicated, very committed to giving himself a chance to play in the NHL. And he’ll do whatever it takes. So we got together, and Gary was definitely the best option for Reid.” With a year of pro hockey – including a cup of coffee with Wilkes-Barre – already under his belt, McNeil could be in a position for a breakout season.
*Derrick Pouliot stood out as the best defensemen in a few drills and struggled in a few others. Pouliout’s skating, while not at an elite level, does not drop off much when he is in possession of the puck, which is not the case with most of the other defensemen. He is able to move the puck quickly in both passing and shooting situations, and his shot is very well-placed, instinctively knowing where to put the puck to create a rebound or get a deflection instead of trying to beat the goaltender from a low-percentage area. However, Pouliout did not fare as well against the rush when faced with one-on-one and two-on-one situations.
Philip Samuelsson is very opposite of Pouliot, to the point that the two could make for a very effective pairing because of how they make-up for what the other lacks. Samuelsson’s offensive abilities are lagging behind the rest of his overall development, but he defends the attack exceptionally well and creates a physical presence without actually needing to make contact. Samuelsson will never be looked to as an offensive catalyst at the AHL or NHL level, but his offensive shortcomings are not of major concern. Today’s game still requires a good first pass from every defenseman, though, so he will need to hone in on that skill to push himself further along.
*Scott Harrington was one of the most-consistent defensemen across all the drills in Day 2. He is potentially the best among the defensemen at facing the two-on-ones, and he jumped out as having a very strong skating ability and awareness of the ice during a dump-and-chase drill, skills that were far superior to any other player in the drill. When Harrington beat Maguire with a quick release for a goal in the small-area game, he left little to find in his game that does not make him a strong candidate to log big minutes in the AHL this season and garner some consideration for NHL time in the near future.
*Olli Maatta got a much-anticipated opportunity to showcase his defensive talents in today’s session. He owns exceptional puck skills – soft hands, accurate passing, and an effective shot (which he used to score a goal in the two-on-two game). He is noticeably a much stronger player from a year ago, and his skating has gotten better, as a result. He is deep into his knee bend and uses his edges really well. There is very little doubt that Maatta has the potential to reach the NHL and make an impact shortly after becoming a full-time professional, which is still at least another year away because he is ineligible to play in the AHL until his junior eligibility expires with the London Knights of the OHL. “I don’t mind playing another year in London. That would be a good experience at getting better and getting stronger there,” said Maatta. He did get a small taste of AHL action last year, though, by playing in 3 playoff games for Wilkes-Barre after his OHL season had ended.
*Brian Dumoulin is the defenseman that seems closest to cracking the NHL lineup. His skills are very steady and refined, leaving it difficult to find a weakness in his play. His size is a significant attribute, too. It is never difficult for any NHL club to find a spot for a defenseman that is 6’4” and 219 pounds, so it will be hard for Pittsburgh to shy away from promoting Dumoulin this season, even with a lot of other NHL-proven defensemen in the mix. Consistency will be the key for him to earn that promotion. In speaking of his first professional season in 2012-13, Dumoulin noted, “The length of the season was a lot different. I’d have one or two good games and relax. In college, you’re done for the week. I realized quickly that you can’t do that. I got better at bringing the same effort game in and game out.”