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Insider Only Pittsburgh Penguins Top 15 Prospects: Despres keeps a hold on No. 1 spot

In our newly released top 15 Pittsburgh Penguins prospects, 2009 1st round pick Simon Despres keeps a hold on the No. 1 spot as the Penguins top prospect in their system.
Despres headlines a strong group of defensemen in the top-10 and throughout the Penguins system.
Eric Tangradi is the most NHL ready winger that possesses potential to be a regular on a top-2 line.
The one-through-three rankings remain the same as they did in January 2010, with Despres No. 1, Tangradi No. 2 and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, No. 3.
2010 1st round Beau Bennett is the No. 4 rated prospect in our updated list. Three 2010 draft selections made the top-15.
Three of the more intriguing wingers in the Penguins system include Ben Hanowski, Keven Veilleux and Nick Petersen. All have offensive upside as scoring wingers but remain major wildcards.
2007 draft picks Casey Pierro-Zabotel and Alex Grant did not make the list. Both players have seen their stock drop significantly when it comes to ever reaching the NHL.
1. Simon Despres – Age 18
Born: 07-27-1991 – Laval, QC
Height: 6 – 4 Weight: 205 lbs
Position: D Shoots: L
2009 1st round draft pick
Estimated Arrival: 2011
Current Team: Saint John (QMJHL)
2009-2010 Season: Despres had a strong regular season, scoring 9 goals and 38 assists for 47 points, including a plus-26 rating in 63 games.
Despres play in the QMJHL playoffs was even better and has been characterized as dominant by a number of scouts.
In just 21 games played, Despres has 2 goals and 17 assists for 19 points. Despres also has a team high plus-14 rating in the playoffs. By comparison, Despres was a minus-5 in four playoff games last spring.
The 18 year old defenseman has made tremendous strides in his development and is on the fast track the NHL.
“Highly skilled player and has made huge improvement” this season, ” Saint John assistant coach Marc Hussey told Inside Pittsburgh Sports.
Hussey On Despres’ prospects of making the Penguins club out of training camp this coming fall: “He has a great opportunity in front of him and is prepared for a big summer, ” Hussey said.
Scouting Report: Has drawn rave reviews inside the Penguins organization and the consensus No. 1 prospect in the Penguins system. Projects as an impact player at the NHL level.
– At 6-4, 218 lbs, Despres plays a strong defensive game. Very good positioning for a young player and is an avid shot blocker.
– Reads the play very well, uses his long reach to his advantage
-Despres anticipation is regarded by members of the Saint John coaching staff as his biggest strength. “He reads the play extremely well, ” Hussey said. “See’s the play before it happens,” he added
– Has good hockey sense, and has the physical skills to do it all in the defensive zone.
– A solid skater for a player his size and Despres moves the puck very well on the breakout.
– Won’t be a consistent 45-50 plus point producer at the NHL level but team scouts believe his offensive game will evolve to a regular 35-40 point player.
– One developing part of his offensive game has been his shot. It’s been regarded as a major weakness in his game that lacks NHL like velocity.
– Despres took the initiative to improve that part of his game this past season. “He’s taking the initiative, working after practice on his shot and the results show that the extra work has paid off. ” Hussey told Inside Pittsburgh Sports in a May interview. Despres had a 7 goal improvement in 2009-2010. Marc added that he in particular has spent a lot of time with Despres, working with him after practice on a number of areas including his shot
– Not an overly physical play but picks his spots well.
– Despite possessing great size, Hussey tells me that Despres will need to continue to work on improving his strength and getting stronger this summer.
Potential: – Low End #2 defenseman/ High End #3 defenseman
2. Eric Tangradi – Age 21
Born: Feb 10, 1989 – Philadelphia, PA
Height: 6-4 Weight: 219 lbs
Position: LW Shoots: Left
2007 2nd round draft pick (Anaheim)
Estimated Arrival: 2010-2011
Current Team: Wilkes Barre Scranton (AHL)
2009-2010 Season: Tangradi, the Penguins top forward prospect in their system got off to a slow start in his first professional season with the Penguins. A should injury hindered his play early on and he struggled to adjust to playing against bigger, stronger players in the AHL.
However, during the season half of the season, Tangradi was one of Wilkes Barre’s most consistent players upfront. In 65 games played, Tangradi had 17 goals – 22 assists for 39 points. In the 2010 Calder playoffs, Tangradi had a goal and an assist in 4 games played.
Tangradi got his feet wet at the NHL level, making his NHL debut with the Penguins against the New York Islanders in the Penguins regular season finale.
Scouting Report: – Tangradi has all the physical tools to be a proto-typical power forward in the NHL but he is still a work in progress. Projects to battle for a top-2 line spot with the Penguins coming out of training camp.
– Tangradi who is regarded as a poor mans Kevin Stevens, has above average skating ability.
– Protects the puck very well down low in the offensive zone. Use his size well.
– Establishes a net presence and wins battles in the corners.
– Great Hockey vision, sees the ice very well
– Does not have an explosive shot but he has good hands around the net. Accurate shot
– Strong on the boards in the defensive zone in making a play off the breakout.
– Quickness of his shot is a still a work in progress
– Primary concern from scouts is his lack of physical play.
Potential: Low end top- 6 Forward/ High end third liner
3. Robert Bortuzzo– Age 21
Born: 3-18-1989, Thunder Bay, ON, Canada
Height: 6-3 Weight: 198 lbs
Position: D Shoots: R
2007 3rd round draft pick
Estimated Arrival: 2011
Current Team: Wilkes Barre Scranton (AHL)
2009-2010 Season: There isn’t a player in the Penguins system who has risen the Penguins prospect board higher than Bortuzzo. Bortuzzo established himself as a top-3 defenseman in 09-10, playing a shutdown role and tallying 2 goals – 10 assists for 12 points in 75 games played and a plus-13 rating. He also had over 100 penalty minutes.
In the 2010 Calder Playoffs, Bortuzzo was a minus-2 in four games.
Scouting Report: Bortuzzo is regarded inside the organization as the Penguins #2 defenseman in the organization. According to league executives, Bortuzzo was among three untouchables in the Penguins organization at the March 2010 NHL trade deadline.
– A defensive defenseman who possesses great size. You can’t have enough of them.
– Plays the body well, good positioning, keeps incoming forwards to the outside
– Strong skating ability, accelerates well, has good first two steps skating backwards
– Great hockey sense, wants to get better
– Has gone away from relying on his long reach
– Ability on the breakout has become a strength in Wilkes Barre
– An interesting dynamic in his development is the consistent physical type of game he developed in Wilkes Barre this past season. Plays with an edge.
– Needs to continue to get stronger and bulk up, which will help him improve his ability to clear the front of the net
4. Beau Bennett, – Age 18
Born: Gardena, California
Height: 6-foot-1: Weight: 176 lbs
Position: RW Shoots: R
2010 1st round pick
Estimated Arrival: 2014
Current Team: Committed to the University of Denver for fall 2010
2009-2010 Season: The Pittsburgh Penguins selected forward Beau Bennett from the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) with their first selection (20th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft Friday night in Los Angeles.
Bennett, 18, led the BCHL in scoring this past season with 120 points (41G-79A) in 56 games. He added 14 points (5G-9A) in 15 postseason contests for the Vees.
Bennett, whose point total was the most in the BCHL since the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Tyler Bozak registered 128 points in 2007, became the first BCHL rookie to surpass 100 points in the past seven years.
The 6-foot-1, 173-pound Bennett, who has committed to attend the University of Denver beginning in the fall, is the highest-drafted Californian-born player in NHL history.
Scouting Report: The selection of Bennett addressed a primary need in the Penguins system.
– Regarded as an offensively gifted player in the offensive zone.
– “Great vision and hands, ” hockey agent Steve Reich whose firm represents Bennett told Inside Pittsburgh Sports.
– A skilled player with a high ceiling but has a ways to go in his development. The consensus among a handful of scouts i spoke with is that Bennett’s 3-to-4 years away and will spend at least two, likely three years in college.
– First year in the college ranks could be a transition season as Bennett will likely face difficulties with the speed of the college game.
– In college, will need to bulk up and improve his strength
5. Philip Samuelsson Age 18
Born: 1991-07-26
Height: 6-2 Weight: 198 lbs
Position: Defense | Shoots: Left
2009 Second Round Pick
Estimated Arrival: 2014
Current Team: Boston College, NCAA
2009-2010 Season: Performed above expectations in his freshman season at Boston College. Samuelsson played in all 42 games and recorded 14 points – one goal and 13 assists – and a +15 rating. Samuelsson has been invited to participate in the 2010 USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp from July 30 – Aug. 7 in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Scouting Report: Regarded by NHL scouts as major reach in the second round of the 2009 draft but Samuelsson is rated highly by the people who count; Penguins scouts. It was tough to put him at no. 5 but members of the Penguins organization I’ve spoke with rave about his potential.
– A defensive defenseman whose not flashy but is reliable and sound in his own end.
– Made great strides in his development at Boston College
– Saw extensive minutes as a freshman on the penalty kill at BC.
– Uses his long reach well. Smart player who breaks ups a lot of plays in passing lanes.
– Not a physical player like his father by any means. That’s an area of his game that is still developing. A member of the BC hockey operations staff told me Samuelsson made great strides at picking his spots better as the season went on by having confidence in using his size to take the body instead of relying on his poke check.
– Ability on the breakout is another area of his game that saw tremendous improvement at BC. Needed improvement in that area will be crucial to his development.
Potential: Low end No. 4/ No. 5 defenseman
6. Brian Strait – Age 21
Born: 01-04-1988, Boston, MA,
Height: 6-1 Weight: 200 lbs
Position: D Shoots: L
2006 3rd round draft pick
Estimated Arrival: 2011
Current Team: Wilkes Barre Scranton (AHL)
2009-2010 Season: In his first professional season, Brian Strait performed about expectations playing a solid defensive game for the WBS Penguins. Strait led Wilkes Barre with a plus-22 rating and added 14 points in 78 games.
Scouting Report: Plays a strong defensive game, Strait has drawn comparisons to former Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi
Exceptional hard worker, possess captain like traits on and off the ice.
– Good positioning, clears front of the net
– Above average skater
– Excels on the penalty kill, gets his body in front of pucks.
– A leader, great locker room guy
– Most under-rated part of game is ability on the breakout
– Needs to pick his spots better when to take the body
– Needs improvement in 1-on-1 situations
Potential: – Low end No. 4 defenseman/ High end No. 5 defenseman
7. Carl Sneep – Age 22
Born: 11-5-1987,
Height: 6-4 Weight: 210 lbs
Position: D Shoots: R
2006 2nd round draft pick
Estimated Arrival: 2011-2012
2009-2010 Team: Boston College (NCAA)
2009-2010 Season: In his senior season at Boston College, Carl Sneep ranked first among defenseman and 6th on the team with 11 goals and 17 assists in 42 games played.
Sneep signed a two year deal with the Penguins in April.
Scouting Report: Carl Sneep, the Penguins 2nd round pick in 2006 is an exceptional skater who plays a strong two-way game.
– At 6-4, 210lbs, Sneep has the physical skills that scouts rave about but didn’t dominate at the college level that some evaluators who have liked to see.
– Not a flashy player
– Very good positioning, uses his size well
– Plays more physical than he is given credit for
– Strong 1-on-1 player
– Regarded as a student of the game, intelligent player
– His offensive game hasn’t evolved to the point that scouts thought it would, at least it didn’t at the college level.
– Passes up too many shots in the offensive zone
Potential: – Low end #4 defenseman/ No. 5 defenseman
8. Nick Johnson – Age 24
Born: 12-24-1985
Height: 6-2 Weight: 200 lbs
Position: RW Shoots: R
2004 3rd round draft pick
Estimated Arrival: 2010
Current Team: Wilkes Barre Scranton (AHL)
2009-2010 Season: Nick Johnson put together another complete season, scoring 16 goals – 27 points for 43 points in 61 games played last season. Johnson was third on the team with a plus-19. A high ankle sprain caused Johnson to miss 6-to-7 weeks early in the season. Johnson scored 4 goals in 4 games in the 2010 Calder playoffs.
The 6-foot-2, 200 pound forward, appeared in 6 games with the Penguins, scoring his first career NHL goal on January 21, 2010 against the Washington Capitals.
Scouting Report: At age 24, Johnson is a late bloomer. Regarded by some as the most complete and NHL type prospect in the Penguins system.
– Big strong player who has top 9 potential, can score in around the net and create his own play
– Smart two way player.
– Good hands, strong shot.
– Above average skating ability for a power forward type of player but lacks NHL type acceleration.
– Protects the puck well, quick passer when a defender is closing in
– Uses his size well– behind and around the net
– Ability to pick corners, snap shot is his biggest asset
– Not afraid to establish a net presence
– Reliable player in the defensive zone
– Needs more consistency
– Has not shown the ability to dominate at the college or AHL level, despite the physical skills he possess.
Potential: – 3rd line two way player with the ability to step in and play a top-6 role.

9. Keven Veilleux – Age 21
Born: 6-27-1989, St-Georges-de-Beauce, PQ
Height: 6-4 Weight: 220 lbs
Position: RW Shoots: R
2007 2nd round draft pick
Estimated Arrival: 2012
Current Team: Wilkes Barre/Scranton (AHL)
2009-2010 Season: Veilleux underwent shoulder surgery in December 2009 that caused him to miss most of the. The talented forward only appeared in 9 games, scoring 2 goals and 1 assist.
Scouting Report: After being drafted as a center, Veilleux has been groomed to be a winger in the NHL. His development and timetable to the NHL took a hit this past season due to injuries. Veilleux is one of the more intriguing players in the Penguins system.
– Possess size, strength and great composure in around the net.
– Excellent goal scorer on breakaways
– Hard accurate shot, has top 6 forward potential in the shooting and passing department
– Above average speed, acceleration for a player his size
– Uses his long reach, protects the puck well in the offensive zone
– Has drawn comparisons to Viktor Kozlov from team scouts
– Looks very comfortable playing wing
– Smart two-way player, cleans up his own well, has a center instinct
– Size, offensive skill to be a 35+ point player in the National Hockey League
– Lacked a killer instinct at the junior A level
– Like many young players, needs to be more consistent
– Will benefit from better coaching at the AHL level
Potential: – High end two-way third line player with ability to play on top two lines
10. Ben Hanowski – Age 20
Born: 10-18-1990, Little Falls, MN, USA
Height: 6-2 Weight: 198 lbs
Position: RW Shoots: L
2009 3rd round draft pick
Estimated Arrival: 2013
Current Team: St. Cloud State (NCAA)
2009-2010 Season: Ben Hanowski’s freshman season at St. Cloud State had it’s share of struggles. After scoring 73 goals the past season in the high school ranks, Hanowski struggled playing at a higher level. In 43 games played, Hanowski had 10 goals and 19 assists. Hanowski had a prolific high school hockey career scoring 73 goals and 135 points (73-62-135) in 31 games, for Little Falls (2008-2009) during his senior season. However, he’s a prospect that needs time to develop in the college ranks and is at least 3-to-4 years away.
Scouting Report:
– Exceptional puck skills, has drawn comparisons to Tomas Vanek according to Central Scouting, when it comes to his stick handling/goal scoring ability
– Has a knack for scoring goals
– Elusive when a defender is closing on him
– Good at moving the puck in tight
– Smart two way player
– Performed well in testing drills at Penguins prospect camp last July in drills that had an emphasis on quick feet.
Overall though skating ability is a concern from scouts. Not an exceptional skater, lacks breakaway speed but has quick feet.
Body needs to fill out.
Potential: – Top 9 forward
11. Dustin Jeffrey– Age 22
Born: 02-27-1988, Sarnia, ONT,
Height: 6-1 Weight: 199 lbs
Position: Center Shoots: L
Estimated Arrival: 2010-2011
Current Team: Wilkes Barre/ Scranton
2009-2010 Season: Jeffrey had a breakout season offensively, leading Wilkes Barre with 71 points and 47 assists on the season.
Scouting Report: Two-way centerman who is an extremely good passer. Offensive game is developing but questions remain whether he projects as a regular at the NHL level. However, he earns a No. 11 rating based on coversations with Penguins scouts who don’t appear to have as many concerns as other scouts around the league do.
– Smart two way player
– Puck possession player
– Good instincts in the defensive zone
– Lacks any kind of physical game
– Regarded as being too finesse
– Holds onto the puck too long
– Skating ability needs to improve
Potential: 4th line role player
12. Bryan Rust – Age 18
Height: 6-1, Weight: 191-pound
2009-2010 Season: The 6-1, 191-pound forward from the United States National Development Under-18 Team. Rust, 18, appeared in 27 games with the U.S. Under-18 team this past season, recording 10 goals and 23 points.
He was a member of the U.S. squad which won the gold medal at the 2010 World Under-18 Championships in Belarus. Rust was one of the offensive leaders for the Americans as he finished with four goals, six points and a plus-4 rating in seven games. His four goals ranked second on the team. He will be attending Notre Dame in the fall.
Scouting Report: Reminds Penguins scouts of Tyler Kennedy. Plays a Kennedy type of game with more size and strength.
13. Nick Petersen – Age 20
Born: 1989-05-27, Wakefield, QC, Canada
Height: 6-3: Weight: 188
Position: RW: Shoots: Right
2009: 4th round pick
Estimated Arrival: 2012
2009-2010 Team: Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
2009-2010 Season: Petersen, who was drafted by Pittsburgh in the fourth round (121st overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, completed his first season with Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Petersen posted 39 goals, 40 assists, 79 points, 12 power-play goals and a plus-46 rating in 59 games with the Sea Dogs. His 79 points ranked third on the team, while his plus-46 rating paced the club.
The 6-foot-3, 188-pound winger added 28 points (7G-21A) in 21 postseason games.
Petersen, 20, played the previous two years with Shawinigan of the QMJHL, compiling 119 points (48G-71A). He finished sixth in the league in scoring in 2008-09 after posting 90 points on 37 goals and 53 assists in 68 contests. He also notched a plus-57 rating. The Wakefield, Quebec native followed that campaign with a strong showing in the playoffs after recording 22 points (10G-12A) in 21 games.
The Penguins signed Petersen to a three year contract in April. He is expected to begin the 2010-2011 season with the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League
Scouting Report: One of the more intriguing wingers in the Penguins system.
– “Big powerful player, skates well, ” Saint John assistant coach Marc Hussey said.
– Like Despres, Hussey praised Petersen’s commitment to the game, telling me that Petersen has put in “countless hours” on improving his game.
– An area of Petersen’s game that he has improved greatly is his ability in “tight areas”, according to Hussey.
– As an individual, Hussey spoke very highly of Petersen, calling him a “real nice kid.”
– An interesting part of the discussion was about 20 year olds playing against younger players. Some scouts and evaluators downplay how well an older player performs in the top Junior-A leagues.
– Hussey downplayed that notion to some extent, calling Petersen a late bloomer whose is in a good position. “As a 20 year old, expectations were high for him and he met those expectations, Hussey said.
“There has been lots of time this season where he’s completed dominated games, ” Hussey said.
– Hussey praised Petersen’s determination as a goal scorer. “He’s hungry to score goals, ” Hussey said. According to Hussey, that kind of determination in a player who has the skills to be an elite goal scorer is very important and something that can’t be overlooked.
Potential: – TBD
14. Tom Kuehnhackl
Height: 6-2, Weight: 192 lbs
Position: Left Wing
2010 4th round pick
2009-2010 Season: Forward from Landshut of the German-2 league. Kuehnhackl, 18, was Central Scouting’s No. 8 ranked European skater. He appeared in 38 games for Landshut this past season, scoring 12 goals and 21 points. His father, Erich, was elected to the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame in 1997.
Scouting Report: Regarded as being very good value pick. High upside forward who has the size to develop into a power forward type of player at the next level. A player who will likely rise in the prospect rankings.
15. Joe Vitale – Age 24
Born: 1985-08-20
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 205 lbs
Position: Center Shoots: Right
Estimated Arrival: 2011
Current Team: Wilkes Barre/Scranton (AHL)
2009-2010 Season: Joe Vitale was a key role player for Wilkes Barre, scoring 6 goals and 26 assists in 74 games played.
Scouting Report: Pens GM Ray Shero recently said that in the near future Joe Vitale will be playing in the NHL. Whether it’s for the Penguins or someone, Shero added.
– Vitale is an energy player with excellent speed
– Plays an uptempo- game, effective on the fore-check and adds grit to his game.
– Regarded by many as a “tenecious player” who gives 100% effort at all times.
– Projects as a solid role player at the NHL level.
Just missed the Cut
*Defenseman Alex Velischek

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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