*Based in Southern Ontario, Junior “A” talent evaluator Brian Kelly is a special contributor to Inside Pittsburgh Sports, covering the 2009 Rookie Tournament.
Kitchener, Ontario – The Pittsburgh Penguins top prospects got their first look at Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson Sunday night in the Penguins opening game in the 2009 Rookie Tournament.
Gustavsson was strong in net making 36 saves and leading the Maple Leafs to a 3-1 win.
The Maple Leafs got goals from Alex Berry, Viktor Stalberg and Greg Scott. For Pittsburgh it was a game they would like to move on from.
They were outworked and out chanced as the Leafs were the faster and more physical team. Brian Burke is quickly building the Leafs system into one of the NHL’s best. Pittsburgh saw that first hand tonight.
Evaluations on Tangradi, Veilleux, Grant & more
A few bright spots for Pittsburgh on the night was goaltender Patrick Killeen, center Jon Vitale and 2009 first round pick Simon Despres. Killeen who was the Penguins top goalie in their prospect camp in July, made over 30 saves and kept Pittsburgh in the game all night.
*Killeen had one goal against that he would like to have back in the second period by Greg Scott. Other than that, it was great night of work for the 19 year old goaltender.
*Vitale scored the Penguins lone-goal and was the teams top forward on the ice. Vitale was extremely noticeable, using his exceptional speed to be very productive on the fore-check. He’s a player who could be a solid depth player down the road for the Penguins.
The best news of the night was the performance of 2009 1st round pick Simon Despres. Despres played a sound defensive game and was very effective in closing in on an incoming forward.
For an 18 year old defenseman, his positioning was exceptional on the night. What was most impressive by his performance Sunday night was his ability on
breaking the puck out. Despres was poised moving the puck up to his forwards and on two occasions he used a quick spin move to avoid an incoming fore-checker. He was not tentative at all to skate the puck out and make a play.
Despres has all the tools defensively but for watching him play in person for the first time in over a year, his offensive game continues to evolve. He’s a prospect Pittsburgh fans should be excited about.
*Defenseman Alex Grant was efficient on the breakout and registered 3 shots on the goal. Hard accurate shot from the point.
As for his play in the defensive zone, it wasn’t a strong night for Grant. When the physical play picked up, Grant struggled. He had a hard time against players with good size down low in the defensive zone.
*Brian Strait was a bit inconsistent. He was beat wide by Tyler Bozak on one occasion in the first period and was a -1 on the night.
But, he played better as the game went on. Under-rated aspect of his game is breaking the puck out. Good positioning for the most part in the defensive zone. Broke up a number of plays in front of the net.
*Eric Tangradi had four shots on goal. But, doesn’t look 100% when it pertains to his wristshot — Still recovering from wrist surgery.
He played well for the most part. A great puck possession player down low around the net. Really impressed with how he drove to the net. He almost put home a rebound in the 2nd period. Good first game for him.
Kevin Veilleux played a complete game. Smart two-way player. Makes the right play in the defensive zone. Player that a coach can trust in key situations. Still like to see his offensive game come around a bit.
Center Dustin Jeffrey was a surprise scratch. He pulled a groin in the teams morning practice. Expected to practice tomorrow morning and likely to play against Ottawa Monday Night.
The Penguins will practice tomorrow monring at 10:30 a.m. and will face-off against the Ottawa Senators at 7:00 p.m.