By Dave Fryer, Contributor to
The solid play of so many defensemen over the course of the week – capped by Saturday’s scrimmage – shows how unbelievably deep the Penguins truly are at that position. Although it does beg the question of if the blueliners are looking so dominant overall because of how thin the team actually is at forward. An argument can be made for both sides, particular when defensemen that will never make the NHL were among the better performers in the scrimmage. But either way, there really is more talent on defense than most even recognized before the camp. Since the goaltending corps has also proven its depth and value, Ray Shero is well-aligned to make trades, signings, and draft choices that focus almost entirely on the forward position.
*Olli Maatta played well enough to confirm that he currently has the most upside of any Penguins prospect. He had incredible poise with the puck, making smart decisions on when to pass it and when to skate it. He was also very responsible defensively in a game where he could have played a lot more carelessly to show off his abundant talent. It is an entirely different task to perform as well against NHL players, but Maatta should earn a good look from Dan Bylsma come training camp and put in situations that should benefit him greatly. However, Maatta will still end up back in London of the OHL for the season. Under the collective bargaining agreement, he is not eligible to play in the AHL until his Canadian junior eligibility is up. So he will either need to be in the NHL or return to the OHL, and with the stockpile of defenders in Pittsburgh, Maata will spend another year in juniors, where he will likely dominate.
*Derrick Pouliot was impressive on many occasions for his playmaking abilities. He kick-started the offense on several shifts and made plays to sustain the attack in the offensive zone. His work through the neutral zone and excellent pass led to the Marcantuoni goal, even though it was announced as unassisted. On the down side, Pouliot had an off switch, as well. He appeared content to go through the motions on many shifts instead of making plays with his superior puck skills. Pouliot undoubtedly has the capability to make an impact every shift, and that should come as he matures into an elite defenseman. Like Maatta, Pouliout will need to make the NHL roster in September to stick at pro level; otherwise he returns to Portland of the OHL. Portland may be exactly what he needs, though, to accelerate that maturing process as a go-to defenseman.
*Ryan Segalla had a very good day. He played like someone that really wanted to get noticed. Segalla was aggressive at both ends, often pushing the envelope to make a play or throw a hit. But it worked well for him, as he generated offense and initiated a lot of contact against the rush. On one particular rush, Segalla drove right at the opposing defenseman and made a slick move to get by. That came after throwing a good hit to interrupt a breakout earlier in his shift.
*Alex Boak gave his best effort of the week once the puck dropped. His tenacious style is far better suited for game play, and he showed a good mix of physical play, defensive skill, and offensive contributions. Boak has led his Clarkson University team in penalty minutes in all three of his seasons there, and he will probably have a chance to make it a clean sweep for his senior season. True to form, he drew one of the game’s penalties. A good senior season should earn him a pro contract next summer, though the ECHL is probably his final destination.
*Brian Dumoulin displayed his improved offensive skills several times in the game. He jumped into the play several times and tried to make things happen with the puck on his stick, something he was not known to do during his days at Boston College. “That’s one of the areas of the game where I feel like I can do more, especially in the Pens system,” he said. “They really like their D breaking pucks out then jumping up in the play. It was important for me to get that confidence in my game now and prove to them that I can jump up in the play and create some offense.”
*Reid McNeill had another solid day, even adding to the offense. “I tried to play my game by being a little physical. I didn’t want to be too aggressive against our own guys, but at the same time, you’ve got to be competitive. I thought I did a pretty good job at that today, and it was a good game.”

*Scott Harrington was steady as can be on the backend. He has been tabbed as strictly a defensive defenseman, and he exhibited that exact characteristic in the scrimmage. He has shown in the drills and in the past that he possesses an ability to generate his share of offense, so it can be envisioned that he matures along the same paths as Brian Dumoulin, in that regard. But there is not much extreme maturation that needs to happen to Harrington’s play in his own end – he will be a reliable option for the Penguins once he gets even just a little time to adapt to pro hockey in Wilkes-Barre.
*Harrison Ruopp, as predicted, performed better in the game situation than he had during the drills. Ruopp still appears to be a bit lanky, despite weighing in at 205 pounds. But he certainly enjoys contact, and even added to the offense on select occasions.
*Philip Samuelsson did nothing of the spectacular variety, but his game was nearly flawless. He looked better with the puck, established a physical presence, and showed the kind of poise expected out of a player with the most pro experience on the ice.
*Nick D’Agostino rung one off the post behind Sean Maguire on the game’s first penalty shot. D’Agostino was relatively quiet the remainder of the day, which is not always a bad thing for a defenseman.