2004 Draft Review by Eric Bowser (12-Jul-2004)
The Pittsburgh Penguins arrived in Raleigh for the 2004 NHL Entry Draft knowing they would be selecting a franchise forward from Russia to join the strong draft classes over the last five years and then play a game of who-likes-who-the-best with the rest of the NHL's scouting community.
Washington's selection of Alexander Ovechkin left no suspense for the second overall pick as General Manager Craig Patrick, Head Scout Greg Malone, European scout Mark Kelley, Assistant GM Ed Johnston and Head Coach Ed Olczyk strode up to the podium to announce in honor of the late Herb Brooks, they had selected Russian center Evgeni Malkin from Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian Super League. Malkin was a no-brainer as the Penguins love the 17-year old's projection to be a dominating two-way center comparable to the likes of Joe Thornton and Vincent LeCavalier.
Many scouts believe the 6'3" 186 pound center will grow into a 6'4" 220 pound monster of dazzling puck skills and determination to be great. He scored 3 goals and 9 assists in 34 games for Metallurg in a league full of grown men. Though many believe Malkin could step right into the NHL, the 17-year old didn't mince words at the draft telling reporters after his selection, "I think I'll probably play one more season in the Russian Super League, I need to pick up some strength and some muscle mass."
Another year of gaining mental and physical strength may not be the biggest obstacle to Malkin's arrival in Pittsburgh as the National Hockey League's transfer agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation has expired and the Russian Hockey Federation along with the Russian team owners have made it known they will not relinquish a player's right without being paid a more financially pleasing sum of money.
The old agreement used to pay Russian teams $200,000 for the transfer, now Moscow Dynamo wants $2 million from Washington for Ovechkin and same can be expected for Malkin. The NHL has told the IIHF it will not sign a new agreement without Russia included so the league has two very important agreements to bargain against two sides determined to dig deep into the trench as the league barters with the NHLPA for a new collective bargaining agreement.
One thought brought up by Penguins' radio play-by-play broadcaster Paul Steigerwald during draft weekend was the Penguins signing Malkin before he turned eighteen so he could get out of his contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk because he is considered a minor when he signed the deal. No word has leaked from the Penguins or his agent regarding the possibility of such as move but one thing is for sure, Metallurg will battle hard to keep their star and signing him will cost the Penguins more now than later under a new CBA.
While off-ice questions are the only negatives for Malkin, Penguins have to be ecstatic drafting the top Swedish player with the first pick in the second round selecting left-wing Johannes Salmonsson from Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League.
Before last year, Salmonsson was considered a top ten prospect for the draft but after his shoulder popped out of place on five different occasions during the season, he struggled to show his offensive skills scoring zero goals and tallying three assists in 25 games. He managed to net one assist in six games at World Juniors.
In April, doctors were able to surgically repair his strained shoulder and after his selection by Pittsburgh, he told reporters, "No problems. I can do anything" as his health is no problem and next year he promised, "I will have a lot of goals. I will take revenge."
Scouts like Salmonsson's 6'2" 183 pound frame, his skill set projects to be a top two line forward with blazing speed and a nose for the physical action in the dirty areas. The Penguins believe Salmonsson will benefit playing all of next year with Djurgarden on the top two lines, rather than coming to North America with the labor uncertainty and their depth at left-wing.
Another neat factoid about Salmonsson is he's a long time fan of the Penguins and Mario Lemieux.
As the Penguins selected two known prospects with their first two picks, Alex Goligoski was a complete surprise to many as the Penguins led by Chuck Grillo decided to go for the high school defensemen because they really liked him and didn't want to lose him if someone else decided to make a reach later on in the draft.
The 5'11" 180 lb right-handed shooting high school defensemen possesses what some say as the best skating ability of any defenseman in the draft and tons of offensive potential as he prepares to play for the University of Minnesota in 2004-05. Goligoski will be able to go to college for four years strengthening his muscles and improving his defensive play learning under Gophers head coach Don Lucia.
The theme of the first two rounds was the Penguins' desire to attack their need for skill and goal scoring ability, a plan that continued throughout the draft as the scouting staff addressed the organization's lack of scorers at all levels by selecting more skill than grit.
In the third round, Pittsburgh selected right-wing Nicholas Johnson of the St. Albert Saints in the Alberta Junior 'A' Hockey League. This 18-year old scored 35 goals, 36 assists in 51 games winning the Canadian Junior 'A' Player of the Year award joining a list of previous winners such as Atlanta's Dany Heatley and Phoenix's Mike Comrie. He was also named the AJHL Most Dedicated Player and unanimous First Team All-AJHL. Johnson will play for the Dartmouth College Big Green of the Eastern College Athletic Conference in 2004-05 joining Pittsburgh area defenseman Grant Lewis who was drafted this year by the Atlanta Thrashers in the second round, 40th overall.
Also in the third round, 85th overall, Penguins drafted center Brian Gifford out of Moorhead in the United States High School West league. The 6'1" 173 pound center, who was a finalist for the Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award, scored 19 goals and assisted on 37 others. Gifford will be heading to the Indiana Ice of the USHL to work on his lack of strength and gaining more speed while being the go-to-guy and leader of the team. At Moorehead, he was the captain and is expected to don the "A" on his jersey for the Ice but his time in the USHL will be short as Gifford would like to get a college scholarship.
On day two, Pittsburgh drafted 5'10" 183 lb Sault St. Marie Greyhounds center Tyler Kennedy in the fourth round, 99th overall. Speed and hard work is Kennedy's game on the ice but like the Penguins Konstantin Koltsov, putting the puck into the net isn't his forte. Kennedy was named the team's Most Gentlemanly Player this season as he finished the season scoring 16 goals, 26 assists, and 28 PIMs in 63 games. In October he was named the OHL Player of the Week scoring 2 goals and 5 assists in three games and last year he was named the Greyhounds Rookie of the Year winning the Pepsi Canada Trophy.
In the fifth round, 130th overall, Pens selected Slovakian defenseman Michal Sersen out of Rimouski of the QMJHL. The 6'1" 200 pound left-handed blueliner scored 7 goals, 18 assists, and +20 rating in 45 games to tie for second among league rookie defensemen even though he missed significant time due to an injury. The No. 1 overall selection in the 2003 CHL Import Draft projects to be an excellent puck-moving defenseman but scouts believe he needs to add a bit of snarl to his game to make it to the NHL.
Pittsburgh went for another project selecting 6'3 201 pound right-wing Moises Gutierrez in the sixth round, 164 overall. Born in San Diego, California and much like New Jersey's Scott Gomez, is a Mexican-American who moved to Alaska in his youth and picked up hockey. Last season, Gutierrez played for Kamloops of the WHL scoring 7 goals, 12 assists, and 107 PIMs in 71 games and was also a Gold Medal winner for Team USA at the 2003 U-18 World Cup. He has excellent speed and skill to go along with his noticeable size to be a possible second day steal if he's given more ice time this year in Kamloops.
In the 7th round, 194th overall, defenseman Chris Peluso of Brainerd High School was likely another Chuck Grillo recommendation. Peluso, a puck-moving defenseman, listed at 5'11" 180 pounds scored 10 goals and 33 assists in 25 games last year. The young defenseman, nephew of former NHL tough guy Mike Peluso, will play for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL next season and then decide which college to attend.
Also in the 7th round, Pittsburgh selected center Jordan Morrison at 222nd overall. Morrison scored 15 goals and 30 assists in 66 games for Peterborough of the OHL. He was the Petes first round pick, and 12th overall in the 2002 OHL draft. Morrison listed at 5'11" and 167 pounds must gain a considerable amount of weight to even consider a jump to the NHL.
Penguins finally went for a goalie in the 8th round, 228th overall, selecting Notre Dame freshman David Brown. He was passed over in the 2003 NHL Draft and not going until late into this draft will give Brown plenty of ammunition to improve his prospect status. He has been known to be a bit aggressive and confident but those knocks didn't slow the start of his collegiate career last season as he earned three consecutive shutouts for the Fighting Irish. Brown finished the season with a record of 14-7-3 and single-season school records with 2.32 GAA, .925 SV% and 4 shutouts. He was named CCHA's rookie of the week three times and defensive player of the week once plus was named Hockey Commissioner's Association's rookie of the month for October.
Pittsburgh finished their draft selections by tabbing Brown University center Brian Ihnacak with their 9th round pick, 259th overall. The 5'11" 178 pound center scored 10 goals, and 20 assists in 31 games, named ECAC's co-rookie of the year and Ivy League rookie of the year, and was Brown's first 30-point freshman in almost 30 years. All the accolades and successful first season means nothing for Ihnacak as scouts believe he must add some muscle to his body to be able to use his offensive skills to the best of his ability. It doesn't hurt his father Peter Ihnacak played for the Toronto Maple Leafs for eight years.
The Penguins left Raleigh drafting two top ten talents and a few offensive projects in the mold of five centers, one left-wing, two right-wingers, three defensemen, and one goaltender. Five of the players drafted were under 6' tall as the team drafted for speed and skill addressing the organization's biggest need for goals scorers. Though the team can expect a return in one or two years for Malkin and Salmonsson, the remaining draft picks could take four or five years to develop and work their way into the NHL, something an organization with deeply loaded prospect pockets can afford to wait on.