Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pens Rookie Scrimmage -- Despite Being a Bunch of Youngsters, Beer Was Still Goddamn Expensive

Well, back from the Pens prospect scrimmage. It was good experience seeing the potential future for the Pens and catching a glimpse of Billy Guerin behind the bench. Guy's got 100 goals for every tooth he's missing, and that's why these young jags better be listening before they got a story about how their coach turned their mouth into a personal punchin bag.

As expected, since the Pens are, you know, in such financial turmoil -- what with hardly anybody comin to the new arena despite the extremely reasonable ticket prices -- they charged a tidy little nominal fee for the cheap domestics they had spewing from their vintage hold-in-the-flavor, i.e., never-been-cleaned, taps.

Even more expected, as well as being bile-inducing, were the droves of fans whose general presence in the arena nearly spoiled the positive buzz and excitement related to the scrimmage. Don't get me wrong -- not everybody's a jag, just most of them. Due to some small miracle, I didn't hear anybody shout, "Shoot!" or see somebody stand up to get a 'better view' of another benign hockey play like the goalie freezin the puck. That said, there were still some of them jags who manage to make a jackass of themselves every game. Before we get to the guys on the ice, let's check out who showed up in the stands.

Stand-Up Comedian: Hockey games do have some comedic potential, especially when you know the sport and got the right timing between in-game action and that killer chorus hook from "Rock You Like a Hurricane."

Of course, some people think it's hysterical to yell the same, tired lines over and over. Luckily, nobody yelled, "How much time is left?" -- though, in retrospect, I wish they did, because it was never announced and they woulda looked like the stupid fuckin jag that they are. In its place stood the guy who, for instance, spouted out a dismissive boo during the shootout (done at the end by all players) when he wasn't impressed with one of their moves. It woulda stopped probably, but he was surrounded by a pack of two imbeciles with whom he apparently shared the same IQ point.

The Critic: Players make numerous mistakes throughout the game, and even the casual fan can pick up and talk some shit on from time to time. But, then again, there's always that really insightful fan who tears apart somebody on the team for a supposed 'mistake,' despite not being able to skate or never even touching a fuckin hockey puck.

You've played deck hockey once in eighth grade? That's great, you fuckin prick. Guess what? This is professional hockey, not your 'team' of overweight assholes who shoot around with plastic-blade Mylecs you found in your garage or physically accosted a neighborhood kid down the street for -- shut the hell up.

A perfect example from today involved smooth puckhandler and future roller hockey all-star if he doesn't start simplifying his game, Beau Bennett. During the shootout, he brought the puck down the obviously rough ice. The puck skipped wildly on edge as he tried to corral it and release a quick snap shot, resulting in a riser that carried over the net and against the glass. Without fuckin delay, a displeased "c'mon" shot out from behind me, the vague and terse statement reflectin the jag's hockey ignorance. Fuck that guy.

Apparent Sufferers of Muscle Atrophy: If there wasn't some medical diagnosis stipulating that these people regularly stand up to allow proper blood flow to their extremities, then I can't quite figure out why the fuck these jags are out of their seats and casually occupying the stairs in front of me while play is goin on. Seriously, get the hell out of the way, or get seats that can better accommodate your condition.

I had the good fortune of not seein any of the Easily Excited, Everything's a Penalty, or the "Shoot!" groups, but expect to hear me go off on them once the season gets underway. Now, let me get into the recap of the scrimmage.

Game Breakdown

Parameters

There were 29 players in all, three scratched, who attended the camp. Players were separated into two squads (Black and White -- see full rosters here). The game consisted of two 25-minute periods with a 15-minute intermission; no side change after intermission. The flow of the game changed dramatically, as it started with tighter five-on-five play and transitioned into a long stretch of four-on-four that spilled over into the second period. During a brief several-minute time frame in the second, teams went down to three-on-three, but switched back to four-on-four for the game's conclusion.

The game featured no power plays to make the most of the time for the young players. Instead, the player who the penalty was committed against got a penalty shot with an opposing player chasing him (to add some pressure). The trailing defender never posed a problem as they started at the far blue line.

Notable Players on Black: Philip Samuelsson (son of Cam Neely's-career-ending Ulfie), Keven Veilleux, Sean Whitney (younger brother of the purse-carryin Ryan), Beau Bennett (2010 1st round pick).

Notable Players on White: Eric Tangradi, Simon Depres (2009 1st round pick), Joe Morrow (2011 1st round pick), Nick Petersen (finished season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton), Zach Sill (11 goals, 85 PIM in W-B/S this season).

General Observations

1) Honestly, I was a bit surprised that the coaches paired Tangradi, Petersen, and Depres all on the same team. All three were the most dominant players in physical play (Veilleux's got the size, but doesn't use it as much as he shoudl), and Tangradi and Depres are the two most likely to have a shot at the team out of camp. With Tangradi being a brick shithouse at 230 pounds, I woulda liked to have seen him and Depres matchin up against one another. Both played well, but didn't seem to have to put in the effort against the younger, smaller guys. Thought it woulda been a better challenge for each of them if they had to go up against one another. 


2) The game was pretty free-flowing, especially with the reduced numbers. At one point, in fact, it looked like they were playin some pickup down at Schenley in the winter (that's where I get my reps in for the big adult-league season and associated binge-drinkin). That said, each squad's style became evident early on in the scrimmage.

Black was the decidedly smaller but quicker team. They were fast off the rush and had some more creativity at the forward position with the likes of Bennett (no. 19), Veilleux (24), and even Kuhnhackl (14). Even though they put together some good strings of passes to score some goals, they were too often a "one and done" team, getting a shot on goal, but unable to win it back for continued pressure.

White wasn't bad on the rush, but the edge in passing, corner play, and anticipation was evident. More often than not, they won the pucks in the corners -- especially with guys like Tangradi, Sill, and Petersen -- and forced a lot of defensive-zone turnovers by Black, including the one that led to the game's opening goal. When it comes down to it, that's the kind of game that's gonna win the Cup (e.g., them pussy Canucks couldn't handle Lucic and company), not the quick back-and-forth play.

3) The score aside, it was good to see the Pens prospects be able to show off their different strengths in a game setting. It was also reassuring to see guys like Tangradi and Depres, the most NHL-ready, pretty much doin as they wanted out there. Even with these outliers, there was a good collection of all-around skill and the guys seemed to enjoy the experience.

Scoring Breakdown

Listen here jags, it ain't easy double-fistin precious beer while operatin a camera, takin notes on players, and trackin the score, so I didn't mark down the exact times, the number of players on the ice, and all the circumstances of every goal. If that's a problem, then you shoulda showed up yourself, you critical asshole. But I'm sure most yinz appreciate what I do, so if that's you, then read on.

Overall Score
Black: 5 | White: 8

First Period Scoring
Black: 2 | White: 4

White (0-1): Harrington (1) from Tangradi (1) and Petersen (1)

This goal was, if I'm not mistaken, the only to occur during a pretty tight section of five-on-five play. As I noted above, White was able to pound the Black squad in their own zone (no, jag, that ain't meant to be sexual) and forced a turnover. Tangradi shuffled the puck to the lower part of the circle, where Petersen dished it into the slot and Harrington hit the upper-right corner of the net. Good team goal.

Black (1-1): Veilleux (1) from Gomes (1)

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At this point, the game had broken down into four-on-four play (hence the extra ice for Veilleux here). Gomes was able to get him the puck along the wing and Veilleux took over from there, roping it into the top-left corner and hittin the bottle, just like Leftwich throwing an overpowering screen pass that breaks someone's ribs because he can't throw anything that's not equivalent to a missile. By the way, sorry bout the quality -- it got worse and worse because I've had to edit and convert it so many damn times -- and the kid with the giant friggin melon who sat in front of me.

Black (1-2): Thompson (1) from Archibald (1) and Bennett (1)

White (2-2): Gibbons (1) from Tangradi (2) and Petersen (2)

After that second goal, apparently White got all pissed off because they went on a tear during the last part of the period that didn't subside until intermission. It started with this one, which once again showcased some of the teamwork displayed by big guys Tangradi and Petersen (bigger, anyway, in the case of Petersen).

White (2-5): Wilson (1) from Uher (1) and Sill (1)

White (2-4): Astles (1) from Rust (1) and Morrow (1)

Good to see Morrow, the Pens' first-round pick this year, get on the board. I'll get into more details on him later. I really just wanted to comment here how the White team was able to spread the puck around and everyone chipped in. Shows again how their overall team play was superior to Black's and how that can make you more successful.

Second Period Scoring
Black: 3 | White: 4

Black (3-4): Veilleux (2), unassisted

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"Nice job," bellows the man who will likely threaten to commit carnal sins against Morrow's loved ones later in his career.

Veilleux used his quick release seen in his first goal to fire another one past Patrick Killeen in the above clip. It helped, naturally, that the puck was delivered to him right in the slot by 2011 first-round pick Joe Morrow (no. 7), who must have been tryin to endear himself to Pittsburghers by doing his best Neil O'Donnell impression with Veilleux filling the role of Larry Brown.

Morrow's freakin awful turnover (bout 17 seconds into the clip) might be distressing to the fans who have high expectations for him, kinda like when Mendenhall fumbles it every nine plays or Tino Sunseri gets that look in his eyes as if he's gonna toss a perfect post pattern only to underthrow it and have it taken back for a touchdown. Cool your jets, though -- his struggles and miscues notwithstanding, he showed some flashes of solid NHL-caliber skills. I'll get into that more in the individual observations section to come.

White (3-5): Rust (1) from Astles (1) and Harrington (1)

Black (4-5): Bennett (1) from Samuelsson (1) and Madore (1)

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With such exciting three-on-three skills, I have high hopes that Bennett will be the best player on my roller team in the upcoming season of Bridgeville's Puck A League.

When the ice was opened up even more for three-on-three play, it was only a matter of time until the highly-skilled Beau Bennett got on the board. I can only assume that he dominates during stick time at BladeRunners. I'll keep an eye out for him next time I go.

He and goalie Rob Madore (Pittsburgh native -- hell yeah!) briefly looked like Larry and Curly when Bennett motioned for Madore to come out and play the puck, only for Madore to -- more or less -- tell Bennett to go fuck himself and go hunt it down if he wanted it so bad. White had the break as a result, but Bennett lucked out when Samuelsson was able to win a battle near the circle and chip it ahead, where Bennett made some subtle but effective stick fakes to draw Killeen into a poke check and slide it around him.

Bennett didn't seem to show off as much today as I've heard bout in the past -- I'll explore this later, too -- but he still can't be pullin this shit in the pros. You think Polamalu waits around while the rest of the Steel Curtain comes up with the big play? Hell no. Bennett should've got dirty in the corner and went for the puck instead of being a freakin pussy; just ask the ugly-as-all-hell Sedin twins how well playin like a bitch worked for them. I hope Billy G smacked him upside the head and that it won't be a problem in the future.

By the way, props to Madore, the goalie right out of the City of Champions, for getting an assist.

White (4-6): Peterson (1) from Gibbons (1)

White (4-7): Uher (1) from Sill (2) and Harrington (2)

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I feel bad for yinz jags and the winning White team that I really don't have any offensive footage from their team. Seriously, who doesn't switch sides in a two-period game? Anyhow, I was able to capture this one, as shitty as it may be.

Scott Harrington (2011 second-round pick) shows off some ability, much like Morrow, to get the puck up the ice and make something happen (admittedly, it was three-on-three). In fact, even though the initial pass didn't connect, I would argue that the above video puts him ahead of unrelated namesake Joey Harrington in terms of being able to distribute the primary object in a sport successfully.

This goal was another example as well of how White was much more efficient in the corners. Zach Sill was able to fish it out of the corner along with Uher, despite all three Black players going after it, which technically was a mistake itself.

Black (5-7): Gomes (1) (Penalty Shot)

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Listen closely for the lady shrieking, "Patrick!" as she evidently tries to address White goalie Patrick Killeen. She spearheaded another prominent collection of insufferable jagoffs who insisted they knew a player well enough to call him by his first name.

Here, Gomes is able to catch Killeen goin down early and snap a quick shot into the upper corner. Simple but effective. Also helps yinz jags better see what the penalty shot was like with the chaser... and how useless that guy was.

White (5-8): Wilson (2) from Harrington (3)

Shootout Overview

After the scrimmage, all players competed in a shootout, with those who scored staying on until a winner emerged. The shootout allowed for a impressive bit of skill to be displayed by a number of players. Morrow had a clever cross-body backhander, similar to what Sykora used to do (hopefully that's the only comparison I'll ever have to make between the two). Veilleux juggled the puck, then brought it down to his stick to snap a shot past Killeen. Whitney challenged Veilleux (last two competitors) by relying on some crafty skating and edge work to deke the Killeen and Madore. In the end, though, Veilleux's puck skills won him the competition. I would've had some footage for you if the goddamn batteries on my camera didn't die.

Chuck's Players of the Game

Nick Petersen (Forward, no. 20, White): 1G - 2A
Scott Harrington (Defenseman, no. 8, White): 1G - 3A 
Keven Veilleux (Forward, no. 24, Black): 2G 

Individual Player Observations

Eric Tangradi (LW, no. 26)
18 goals, 33 points, 86 PIM in 42 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton

After overcoming an injury last year, Tangradi stopped being a jag and started showin why he's the most likely option to make the roster out of camp from the team's prospects. In 23 fewer games, he scored one more goal than he had the year before, along with startin more shit on the ice (55 more PIM) and improvin to a +9.

In the scrimmage, Tangradi looked, quite frankly, bored. He was most effective at five-on-five, forcing turnovers and working down low to maintain puck possession. His passing was crisp and he clearly played the game -- full-strength, at least -- at a higher level than most. He was less of a force as the game size got smaller (didn't even see him three-on-three), but that's not his game. Developed some good chemistry with Nick Petersen and even showed off some puck skills, making a move under the defenseman's stick and then between his legs to get to goal -- reminiscent of Crosby takin Tom Poti out to the fuckin pasture where the Caps should've just shot him and ended his miserable career.

All in all, each player's performance needs to be weighed carefully. I'm gonna wait to see how Tangradi performs against the NHL squad before I go any further. Just know that he was a beast compared to the rest of these little boys, and that should help him comin into camp this year.

Simon Despres (D, no. 2)
13 goals, 41 points, +29 in 47 games with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL

Despres spent his last season as a junior player pretty much dominating the bitch puckhogs that are littered all over the QMJHL's rosters. He played in all roles for the Sea Dogs, and appeared much more often on the score sheet -- in 16 fewer games, he had four more goals than the season prior. From what I saw, Despres also had a solid run during Canada's silver medal run in the IIHF World Junior Tournament. Played smart, simple hockey, and if his jag coach had given some more time, maybe they'd be bedecked in the gold.

During the game, though, I honestly didn't see much of Despres out there aside from frequent minutes during five-on-five play. Didn't get to see the shot that he has been puttin time into, but he controlled the puck well in both zones and consistently shut down the fleet-footed Black team, including standing up to dangler wannabe Beau Bennett and making him look like a nobody. Same goes for Despres as it does Tangradi: let's wait until camp before making any serious judgments.

Keven Veilleux (RW, no. 24)
12 goals, 36 points, 122 PIM in 66 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton

Veilleux made a move to wing last year in the AHL, and was able to put together a solid season, notching 36 points and apparently engaging in aggravated assault every other game to up his penalty minutes. Glad to see Veilleux startin to hammer the opposing team's players because, at 6'5", he had better start beatin fuckers down.

Veilleux displayed immense talent during the scrimmage. He scored twice on two deadly-accurate shots, pulled off some awe-inducing stickhandling (including a backhand drag that embarrassed a White defender), and strung together great passes like the saucer pass seen later in the clip below.

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He also posed a threat in front of the net, often feedin it to the points and gettin in the way of goalie Killeen. Regardless, Veilleux could stand to look like he gave slightly more of a fuck than he does. Tangradi and Despres didn't look particularly polished out there, but Veilleux was more evident prancin around the ice like wood nymph when he should've been playin defense. Veilleux, I thought, could've been more dominant in the corners (though he wins the puck in the video), and he definitely needs to take a stroll into the defensive zone every so often if he's gonna make the NHL. Nevertheless, I expect him to be a top performer this year in the AHL and potential call-up for the Pens if the locker room becomes a glorified emergency room again.

Joe Morrow (D, no. 7)
9 goals, 49 points, +23 in 60 games with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL

I like Shero's choice in draftin out of the WHL, pickin Morrow 23rd overall this year. Of all the Canadian Major Junior leagues, the Western Hockey League is regarded as the most physical. If Morrow can learn to use his skating ability while having the hell beaten outta him, as well as put on some weight, he has a high ceiling as an NHL player.

On the ice, Morrow had a hit-and-miss day. He had that Christmas present of a pass to Veilleux early in the second period, and he was caught playin the puck a few times in his own end.

On the other end of the spectrum, though, his transition and skating skills are legitimate NHL potential. Unfortunately, I don't have it on video, but Morrow relied on his skating a few times to make strong plays. In one tight play near his own blue line, Morrow was able to push the puck through two Black players, shimmy through them -- much how you see Jeff Skinner doing in every friggin clip they show of him -- and start the rush the other way. Later on, Morrow manipulated his edges while in the offensive zone to open his body for a drop pass, pass to net, or a shot -- a sign of how unpredictable a good skater can be.

Morrow will go back to the WHL to round out his game and I'm pullin for him to come back next year much like Despres was in the 2010-2011 NHL camp: a legitimate fighter for one of the final spots, even if he doesn't end up gettin it.

Scott Harrington (D, no. 8)
6 goals, 22 points, -14 in 67 games with the London Knights of the OHL.

With his second pick this year, Shero went with this guy outta the OHL -- Canada's "in the middle" league, with a mix of physicality and skill seen in the other two. Lookin at his stats, some of yinz jags may be wonderin what the hell Shero was thinkin.

Well, truthfully, Harrington had a better day than first-round pick Morrow. Granted, his game is a bit more conservative, but he was smart on both ends of the ice and a bit better using his stick and body to close out plays. He ain't ever gonna end up on a box of Wheaties for playin a solid, two-way game, but he can develop into the kinda guy you count on to eat up minutes on your second pairing. As with many of Shero's recent picks, he's also talented in the transition game. Look at Uher's goal again in the scoring breakdown to check out a brief instance of him carryin the puck and havin his head up to make a play.

Just like Morrow, I expect Harrington to go back to juniors to keep workin on his game. Despite being around ten months younger than Morrow, his overall game did seem a bit more developed. At the same time, I don't think his ceiling's as high. Either way, he'll either be a great piece to step in when guys like Martin and Michalek are leavin or may someday be a pivotal piece in a trade when everybody's bitchin and moanin for a winger or some shit again.

Beau Bennett (RW, no. 19)
9 goals, 25 points in 37 games with University of Denver

Bennett had an injury that kept him out of a handful of contests during his freshman season at Denver in the NCAA's Western College Hockey Association. Even so, Bennett put together a decent season, finishing eighth on his team in scoring. Most of the scorers in front of him were two or more years older, too.

Denver's top scorers -- 19-year-old Drew Shore and 18-year-old Jason Zucker, products of the U.S. Developmental Team -- are perfect examples of what Bennett has to do to have more success at the collegiate and pro level. Namely, start playin both ends of the ice, fightin for pucks, and stop actin like it's the British Columbia Hockey League (Bennett's Junior "A" league, slightly below the three main ones, in which he was able to score massive amounts because it's mainly comprised of no-talent fucks).

The U.S. has been pumpin out more consistent talent in recent years -- look, for instance, at Kane, Parise, Carlson, Fowler, Oshie, Erik and Jack Johnson, etc. -- because they're developin players with skill and grit. Bennett, meanwhile, was never a consideration for the U.S. Junior team because he's got immense talent, but couldn't check my grandmother off the puck. So playin in the collegiate system at Denver is a great opportunity for Bennett to develop a more complete game, even if nobody expects him to become some hitting machine.

The scrimmage only continued to highlight these shortcomings in Bennett's game. He was crafty with the puck and was able to catch White off-guard sometimes with clever passing, but he can't get to the goalie without floating by the blue line and gettin a lucky chip by his defense.

Christ, the freakin Caps should've drafted him. Ovechkin pulls that shit all the time, stepping "in front of" a shot, only to move his hip out of the way and hope for a lucky break. Fuck him and that whole team; that's why they'll never win a cup. Anyhow, Despres and other White defensemen easily forced Bennett wide and got him out of the play when he was on the puck.

Without a doubt, Bennett will go back to Denver, where I foresee the coaches helping him transition to a more physical, rigorous game. Let's see where he stands next year and whether he has put on some weight.

Nick Petersen (RW, no. 20)
24 goals, 57 points in 40 games with Wheeling
5 goals, 14 points in 23 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton

Petersen dominated with the Nailers of the ECHL (more or less the 'AA' league of the NHL) during the first half of the season, and was awarded with a promotion to the AHL, particularly when the Penguins had to borrow the entire AHL squad, where he amassed a respectable 14 points in 23 games.

Petersen had a very good scrimmage, playing well on both ends of the ice and exhibiting the kind of control expected from a big 22-year-old against a bunch of kids. He jelled well with Tangradi, and the two were a nightmare for the Black team in the offensive zone as they applied heavy pressure and controlled the puck.

Even though Petersen's offensive skills didn't appear quite as sharp as Tangradi's, Petersen did shine in the center of the ice. His anticipation and ability to cut off space and lanes were apparent throughout. Combined with a good work ethic and decent hockey sense, Petersen has the potential to be a role player in the NHL at some point.

Another thing I noticed with Petersen was his size. Despite being listed at only 186 pounds, he looked much broader. It's possible that he worked out during the off-season to make more use of his 6'2" body, and I anticipate he'll be a solid mainstay for the Baby Pens this season.

Bryan Rust (RW, no. 12)
6 goals, 19 points in 39 games with Notre Dame

Rust played on an excellent Notre Dame team that, despite its youth, lost to eventual national champion Minnesota-Duluth in the tournament's semi-finals. His stats don't stand out, especially compared to some of the freshmen who lit it up there, but college hockey is typically a game designed for more complete players, not offensive phenomena.

In fact, Rust reminded me a lot Petersen on the ice -- playing smart hockey at both ends and taking away the angles from the Black team as they rushed down the ice. His play at center ice wasn't as noticeable as Petersen's but Rust (19) is three years younger than Petersen and hasn't gotten a chance to play at the pro level yet. Rust will likely never project to become an overwhelming scoring threat, but it's good to have smart, two-way hockey players in your system, too.

Even though he isn't an offensive powerhouse, check out the nice forehand fake to backhand move he uses to undress Madore for his goal.

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Madore's jockstrap was later located somewhere in the lower 100 sections.

Patrick Killeen (Goalie, no. 1)
19-16-2, 3 shoutouts, 2.87 G.A.A., .901 save percentage in 40 games with Wheeling.

Killeen spent a little time as backup goalie in W-B/S last year, but with Curry headed off to Germany -- one of the many havens for AHLers who are too good to stay there, yet not good enough to ever remain on an NHL roster consistently -- he should get a chance to see some time in the AHL.

Killeen made some good saves throughout the scrimmage. He did flop some, though, and seemed to make more work for himself. That said, Tim Thomas does the same thing. Not that the two are comparable, but Killeen still has room to improve at 21; besides, his 6'4", 204 pound body won't hurt his odds.

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Alright, so I'm beat as hell, and my hangover is still killin me. I hope yinz enjoyed the extensive coverage and some videos to boot. I'm passin out now, but I may have some more updates on the lesser-known individuals soon.

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