Recent Posts

Upgrading The Penguins From Within: Defensemen

Derrick Pouliot is poised to be an impact NHL defenseman next season Photo via Post-Gazette (Peter Diana)

Derrick Pouliot is poised to be an impact NHL defenseman next season
Photo via Post-Gazette (Peter Diana)

This is the third part of a three-part series on how the Pittsburgh Penguins can address roster inadequacies internally.

First, we looked at what forwards the Penguins had in their system as options to bring up to the big club next year. Last week, we looked at what goaltenders the Penguins could promote internally to back up Marc-Andre Fleury. This week we ?re going to look at a position where the Penguins are flush with depth – the blue line.


During Ray Shero’s time as Penguins’ general manager, hardly an off season went by that he didn’t choose a new, mobile defenseman in the entry draft. Well, those picks are finally ready to make the leap. The time has come, with the expiring contracts of Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin, to let the young guys loose. Here are three sure-fire NHL options as well as three on-the-cusp guys.
Derrick Pouliot was the big prize chosen eighth overall with the pick Ray Shero got for Jordan Staal at the 2012 entry draft trade. Pouliot, a student of the Mike Johnston style of hockey in junior with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, had flashes of unmitigated brilliance in his call-up stints with the NHL club last season. His first NHL goal against the Senators and his power play playmaking made the loss of Olli Maatta sting less at times. He is the perfect defenseman for the Johnston puck-moving system. At this point, he is hardly a prospect anymore but considered by many a full blown NHL’er. And with good reason. He is the next Kris Letang and could be seen alongside Olli Maatta or Letang himself next season.
Brian Dumoulin was the prospect piece Ray Shero pushed mightily for in the same Jordan Staal trade. At a whopping 6’4″ the big defenseman is one of the larger prospects. He has had to fight through the doubts of former head coach Bylsma but came out of Wilkes-Barre last season running. Less offensively gifted than the likes of Pouliot and Letang, this two-time NCAA champion skates with authority and brings a more stout defensive presence than he gets credit for. Playing more in the style of a hybrid of someone like Matt Niskanen with his tough point shot and Paul Martin with his calming presence, Dumoulin underscored his worth in the postseason when he looked at home defending against the New York Rangers.
Before last season no one knew who Taylor Chorney was. Then he, on a cheap two-way deal, became the Penguins’ emergency call-up in a few tight spots and impressive doesn’t do his play justice. On a team heavy with offensive defensemen, a quick minded, positional defenseman is always a nice addition. Chorney isn’t the kind to score goals, but his hockey sense and vision coupled with his strong skating helped make his case. He earned a lineup spot in the postseason when the team had access to calling up any of its touted defensemen. His play with Brian Dumoulin in both the NHL and the AHL was absolutely phenomenal, leading to zero even strength goals against in the long AHL season. He may not be the typical top-4 defensman with his slight size, but is certainly a top-6 guy with a strong hockey IQ and good wheels.
The Next Three
When I picked Chorney I agonized over not picking SCOTT HARRINGTON, who just missed the immediate cut. Harrington boasts a brilliant first pass and shows flashes of what Paul Martin is, but another season in the AHL receiving heavy minutes and getting injury call-ups to the NHL would probably help his development. He does still look hesitant in his decisions at times. Look for him to make a difference, but in the kind of role Dumoulin and Pouliot were in this year. The future is bright for him but it just might not be time yet.
HARRISON RUOPP is the Penguins last, nearly- there defenseman currently signed as of today (they do have a few floating around who are restricted free agents). The 22-year old Ruopp, obtained in the Zbynek Michalek trade, plays in the style of other big hitting defensemen. While the Penguins’ system under Mike Johnston doesn’t necessarily need a guy like this, it is nice to have a that kind of player in the system. That’s why he didn’t make the top three. He is the kind of player Brooks Orpik was, but could use some more work on his gap coverage. The other reason is that he is precisely the kind of player the Penguins could use in a trade. He could buy them more draft picks to use on forwards or be packaged with Paul Martin’s rights to a team needing defensive help.
REID MCNEILL also has a chance of making the big club in some call-up capacity next season. A mobile but defensive defenseman, McNeill has a smooth skating style and played most of the 2013-2014 American Hockey League season with former Penguin Simon Despres. He isn’t quite polished yet and doesn’t project as high as some of the other defensive prospects on this list, but he is a solid shut-down guy that could help the team down the road.
About Leah Blasko (57 Articles)
Leah is a hockey and city life contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. She is a 2013 graduate from the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State University.
Contact: Twitter

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.