Pittsburgh Penguins, you're turn!
Scott Harrington - London Knights
2011/2012 was a great bounce back year for Harrington. He was able to find a groove defensively, something that he was incapable of doing in his draft year because he was pressing to create offense. This year, he let the game come to him and played much more relaxed, mostly because he wasn't being asked to be the team's go to offensive defenseman. Focusing on defense again really helped Harrington find the place he was at in his freshman year. He was, simply put, a rock this year. He's a very smart defensive player and anticipates plays very well. He's not the biggest, but he's hard to beat one on one because his positioning is so strong. Ironically enough, despite focusing on the defensive side of things, Harrington had his best offensive year yet. He makes a solid breakout pass and doesn't panic under the pressure of a forecheck. This coming season will be an interesting one for Harrington. He's going to try and win another OHL championship with the Knights and will likely be playing a similar type of role (30+ minutes a night). That said, there are a few things I'd love to see him do. 1. I'd like to see him step up his aggressiveness in his own end. He was a little meaner this year, but I'd love for him to develop into a guy who you don't want to play against, not just a guy who shuts you down (if that makes sense). 2. I'd love to see him try and go outside his comfort zone offensively again. By leading the rush a bit more, or taking some chances to jump up in the rush. I could definitely see him putting up 40 points this year, if he stays healthy. I'd also be absolutely SHOCKED if he's not the new captain this year. However, I suppose there's an outside shot Harrington can crack the Pens line-up as there seems to be a bit of an opening for a top prospect to nab a spot on the blueline.
Tom Kuhnhackl - Niagara IceDogs
It was a very disappointing year for Kuhnhackl. I think the lengthy 20 game suspension he received for drilling Ryan Murphy on the forecheck had a lot to do with it. When he returned from the suspension, he just wasn't as aggressive. In Windsor two seasons ago, I saw a big behemoth who was not afraid to make a big hit, or go hard to the net with or without the puck. He had a defined role and he played it to a tee. In Niagara, he looked like a different player. I think part of it was the fact that he never really seemed to find a lot of chemistry with the players he played with. He looked awkward at times, or even clueless. He saw a lot of time with the likes of Freddie Hamilton and Ryan Strome, but they play a similar kind of game. I just don't think there was enough space in front of the net for all of them. I also don't think he was used to the little amount he touched the puck. He also didn't see a ton of time on the powerplay, because quite frankly he just wasn't playing well enough. He went from 15 powerplay goals two years ago, to just 2 last year. He'll be in Wilkes-Barre next year, where hopefully he can get himself back on track. The AHL Penguins look to have a lot of solid veteran forward depth, so I'm not sure what type of playing time he'll get. Kuhnhackl will need to make the most of his playing time and get back to playing an aggressive style, without the worry of being suspended.
Reid McNeill - Barrie Colts
There's no question that his offensive game never really developed. He remains someone who's much more comfortable chipping the puck out of his own zone, or making a pass to his d-partner, then taking chances up ice. But his defensive game came a long way over his three year OHL career. The biggest improvement this year for me was how physical he became. He was looking to lay the body any chance he got and became a very difficult player to play against. This was a huge step, because he's always been an effective defender off the rush with his good mobility and long reach. Adding that consistent physicality to his game made him tougher to match up against in the corners and in front of the net. I'm wondering what Pittsburgh's plan for him next year is. Again, there seems to be some solid depth at the AHL level already. Would the Pens consider sending him back to the OHL for his overage year (perhaps to improve his ability and confidence in moving the puck)? Does he split time between the ECHL and AHL? I guess we'll see.
Adam Payerl - Belleville Bulls
I had Payerl ranked as the 5th best overager available to be signed this year, so it came as no surprise that someone did just that. His offensive numbers don't jump out at you, but he does a lot of things well. He's a big body and he knows how to use it. Payerl is aggressive in taking the puck to the net and he protects the puck well during the cycle. He's a physical player who's active on the forecheck, and who'll drop the mitts to protect a teammate. He's also a committed two-way player who is an effective penalty killer. The one noticeable difference this year for me was his first few steps and high end speed looked better. Being a better skater translated to his best season in the OHL yet. He'll spend this year in the AHL/ECHL. The good thing about Payerl is that he's adaptable and will be able to make an impact with under 10 minutes of ice time. He's also capable of playing any forward position. This flexibility could make him a solid bet to be an AHL'er over, perhaps some more highly thought of prospects. I wouldn't expect a lot out of him offensively in his first pro year though (unless he's in the ECHL).
Olli Maatta - London Knights
I loved the Pens selection of Maatta after he fell a bit in the first round. His performance in this past year's playoffs really sold me on him. Truthfully, I always found him to be unlucky on the offensive side of things when I saw him earlier in the year. It was only a matter of time before he started putting up the kind offensive numbers he did in the postseason. The question remains though, which Maatta is the real Maatta? Personally, if he's back in the OHL I'd expect him to be one of the highest scoring defenseman in the league. The Knights have an electric group of forwards and they should have a dynamic powerplay. All things that will help Maatta pile on the assists. Defensively, it'll just be about getting stronger and more confident to flex his muscles. There were times last year where I saw him take the body, but I'd like to see it more consistently. Like Harrington, there seems to be some talk that Maatta could crack the NHL lineup. Considering he was one of the youngest players eligible for the draft, I don't think it'd be smart. He needs to go down to the OHL and prove he can sustain the type of offensive numbers he did in the OHL playoffs, all the while improving the consistency and intensity of his defensive focus.
Matt Murray - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
This coming season will be a huge one for Murray. He started out last year really strongly, but after the Jack Campbell trade, his game really fell apart without consistent playing time. This year, the show is his to run and I expect big things. He's such an athletic goaltender and he showed up huge for big games this past year (prospect's game, Under 18's). The Greyhounds will be in a dog fight for one of the playoff spots again this year. If Murray can take his game to the next level, it could be a difference maker for them. The potential here is literally sky high IMO and I'm really surprised he lasted as long as he did in the 3rd.
Matia Marcantuoni - Kitchener Rangers
Definitely worth the gamble in the 4th round IMO. A lot of talent, but also a ton of questions. Firstly, can he stay healthy? He's missed a lot of time during his short OHL career with a bevy of injuries (shoulder, concussion, ankle). More importantly, can he stay healthy while playing the type of game he needs to play to be successful? When he's at his best, Matia is a physical and high energy winger, but this past season he kind of shied away from that with all the injury problems he was having. Secondly, what type of offensive player can he truly become? He's got a ton of speed, and the puck skill to dangle, but the jury is out as to whether he has the natural instincts to be a terrific goal scorer. Basically, he needs to find a niche as an offensive player. The Rangers are going to be counting on him to provide consistent secondary scoring this year. He'll likely see time in all situations, so he's going to be put in a good position. If he stays healthy, I'd definitely expect a rebound year of 50-60 points.
Clark Seymour - Peterborough Petes
His selection caught me off guard big time. I liked him a lot in his rookie season (as a 16 year old), but I don't think he's really improved a whole lot since then. He's big and physical, but raw in every other capacity. If he can learn to simplify his approach (aka not going for the big hit all the time) defensively, he could develop into a solid stay at home guy. His skating and ability to handle the puck are still in need of improvement too. In Peterborough this year, he's facing pretty much the same competition he did for playing time last year. Truthfully, I don't think he'll get a whole lot more playing time, nor do I really expect him to increase his production.
*of note, the Penguins did not sign 2010 pick Joe Rogalski, allowing him to become a free agent.
*also of note, 2012 2nd rounder Teddy Blueger was selected by Oshawa in this year's Import Draft. All signs point to him going the NCAA route, but you never truly know a player's intentions until the season begins. If he goes to Oshawa, he'll be counted on to be one of the team's primary offensive weapons, and would play on either the first or 2nd line anchored by Boone Jenner or Scott Laughton.