PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — For 37 young hockey players, the first step on their path to the NHL concluded Saturday at CONSOL Energy Center with the annual Penguins Developmental Camp Scrimmage.
Following an unconventional format that featured a pair of 25-minute periods meshed with a pair of pro-style exhibition shootouts, Team White, coached by Penguins player development coach Bill Guerin, defeated Team Black, coached by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach Alain Nasreddine, 5-3.
“This week we were able to implement the things we wanted to from a hockey standpoint. I thought the intensity level was really high, particularly for the first half, and a little into the second half,” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes said. “A little bit later it dropped off a bit, because of how hard they played, and how hard the competition was. But it was nice to see the score pick up in the second half.”
“We really do feel, each year, it improves. Like everything else, you get wiser, and the vision becomes clearer of what you want to do with these kids,” Penguins assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald remarked. “I think they really enjoyed the week.”
Right winger Matia Marcantuoni, 19, got Team Black on the board first by beating Team White starter Eric Hartzell from the right circle. Marcantuoni, a fourth-round draftee from 2012 who spent last year with Kitchener of the OHL (Ontario Hockey League), slapped home a pass from defenseman Derrick Pouliot.
Pouliot, 19, spent the 2012-13 campaign with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL (Western Hockey League), having been drafted eighth overall by the Penguins in 2012. The Pens earned the opportunity to move up and draft Pouliot as part of the trade that sent Jordan Staal to Carolina.
This has become a common theme at the camp. Last summer, the most NHL-ready of the invitees appeared to be Baby Pens blue-liner Simon Despres, though forward Beau Bennett also flashed some skill. Both dressed for the Penguins, albeit in limited roles, in this past Stanley Cup Playoff. On Saturday, Marcantuoni impressed the gathered media, but a prevailing story in this scrimmage, again, was strong defensive play.
Beyond his tally, Hartzell, 24, who recently inked a two-year, two-way deal with the Pens worth $550,000 at the NHL level, was on his own game. Just three months removed from appearing at CONSOL Energy Center as an NCAA Division I finalist with Quinnipiac, he was well supported by a fluid defensive corps that included 21-year-old ex-Hurricanes hopeful Brian Dumoulin, who also came to Pittsburgh via the Staal trade, and 18-year-old Olli Maatta, another 2012 first-round draftee.
Dumoulin, like Maatta, is considered one of the top futures in the Penguins’ system, and he is projected to start the 2013-14 season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton after both saw time with the Baby Pens during their run to the 2013 AHL Eastern Conference Finals.
Also appearing on defense for Team Black were 20-year-old Scott Harrington and 21-year-old Baby Penguin Philip Samuelsson, son of erstwhile Penguin Ulf Samuelsson. Harrington is projected to crack the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton lineup as well.
“[Puck] retrievals–something that is a staple with our organization–is one thing we try to make clear to these kids. You did see a lot of reversing, a lot of willingness to go back and take a hit to make the play,” Fitzgerald said.
Meanwhile, a notable spotlight thief was Team Black starting goaltender Sean Maguire, an unsigned fourth-round draft choice from a year ago. Maguire, 20, a Boston University product, survived several scrambles in and around the crease, was flawless in his shootout efforts, and did not allow the tying goal until very late in the first frame, when he was beaten on a (contested) penalty shot by 2011 seventh-round pick Scott Wilson.
Things opened up a little as the second period wound down, and 23-year-old center Jayson Megna took center stage. Megna, who earned 12 points in 56 games with the Baby Pens in ’12-’13, put Team White up 4-2 not long after hard-working Notre Dame senior Bryan Rust got a dirty goal to give them the lead for good.
Megna weaved left to right through the entire defense, waited for Team Black goalie Matt Murray to over-commit, then fired high over the prone netminder. He would tap in an empty-netter just after Murray was pulled to provide the final margin.
“Throughout the year, he was a little up and down. He was riddled with some injuries, then, late in the year, recovered from them. He was a big component his last 15 games, and he really grew his game in the playoffs,” Hynes said. “This week, you could see, he’s healthy, he’s in shape, he’s a little more comfortable with how we do things. You could see his speed, you could see his competitiveness, and he showed some offensive skill, which is something we expect from him.”
“Where he is, developmentally, is a little different. He came out of school, if you’ll remember, after last year’s developmental camp, and liked what he saw here. He’s still green. He’s still a young hockey player with not much experience. You honestly could look at this year as his first year pro, given what he went through,” Fitzgerald added.
Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) goaltender Tristan Jarry, 18, the Pens’ first overall pick (44th overall) in this year’s NHL Draft, played the second period for Team White.
Expect a number of Saturday’s participants to return, at least, briefly, to Pittsburgh when NHL training camps open universally Wed., Sept. 11.
(James Santelli of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Mike O’Brien of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins contributed to this report.)