A Quiet Friday Night in Pittsburgh
by: Mike O'Brien
It was anything but a slow night for the Pittsburgh Penguins as the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft progressed at CONSOL Energy Center. Heading into the day, the Penguins owned the 22nd overall pick with their sights set on the best player available. A flurry of action saw Pittsburgh not only significantly change their roster, but also had many pundits declaring the hometown team the winner of night one of the Draft.
It all started Thursday night when news broke that Jordan Staal had turned down a 10-year contract extension from the Penguins. The rumors and questions ran rampant. Would this surely mean the exit of Staal from the organization? How does this affect his trade value?
Those questions were answered at 8:09PM when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman strode to the microphone to announce that Staal had been traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Brandon Sutter, Boston College defenseman Brian Dumoulin and the eighth pick in the draft.
The Penguins had effectively gotten themselves a number-three center to replace Staal, a highly-touted prospect to add to their defensive depth and now a chance to take one of the top players on the board.
With that pick, Pittsburgh selected Derrick Pouliot of the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks. Ranked 12th among North American skaters, the 18-year old from Weyburn, Saskatchewan is known as an offensive, two-way defenseman. Also teammate of Joe Morrow - the Penguins’ first round pick last year - Pouliot ranked second among Winterhawks defensemen with 59 points (11g-48a) in 72 games. A strong puckhandler with good speed, Pouliot tries to emulate some of the best defensemen in the NHL.
“I try to model myself after Drew Doughty, maybe Nick Lidstrom. Guys like that who have poise and patience with the puck, but I want to try and get that intensity and grittiness that Doughty has.”
While the Penguins hope that Pouliot continues to develop all aspects of his game, General Manager Ray Shero sees a defenseman that already has the skills to contribute to Pittsburgh’s offense some day.
“We really liked Derrick. We feel he’s a really good skater and has got really good offensive capabilities. He’s a power play quarterback of the future.”
With Morrow set to begin his pro career in the Fall, Pouliot will anchor the Portland defense as the Winterhawks look to improve on last season’s run that saw them make it to the WHL Final.
Though they had already stocked the cupboard with a young, talented defenseman, Pittsburgh had to be thrilled when London Knights defenseman Olli Maatta fell into their laps at No. 22. Projected to go in the early teens by many mock drafts, the 17-year old Finnish blueliner was snatched up by the Penguins.
Maatta is largely known as a stay-at-home defenseman, but he showed his offensive prowess in his first season in North America. He led all rookie D-men with 32 points (5g-27a) as the Knights went on to claim the Ontario Hockey League championship.
“Maatta’s a guy we liked. Big kid, Finnish kid playing on a very good team out in London,” said Shero. “They had a great year making the Memorial Cup Final and he was a big part of that. He’s another young asset on defense that we’ll add to our group here.”
The 6-2, 202-pound defenseman also joins a current teammate in the Penguins organization. Fellow blueliner Scott Harrington was selected in the second round (51st overall) of the 2011 Draft and Maatta credits him for easing his transition from Finland and providing knowledge on the draft process.
“He has told me a lot about the draft and the combine. He helped me a lot with that. He was one of the reasons that my adjustment to London was so easy.”
Originally from Jyvaskala, Finland, Maatta wants to focus on getting bigger and stronger, while continuing to be the type of defenseman that can play in all situations.
When the dust settled after the first round, the Penguins also announced that they had traded defenseman Zybnek Michalek to the Phoenix Coyotes for a trio of players. Pittsburgh had significantly altered its roster for the upcoming season, but with their selections in the first round, created the potential for a pair of Knights and Winterhawks to man the blueline for years to come.