Hockey Will Shine Again in Pittsburgh - 16-Mar-04
Written by: Eric J. Bowser
As the long-term future of the Pittsburgh Penguins waits for the Pennsylvania government to vote on legislation to legalize casinos at race tracks, the hockey side of the operations has maintained their efforts to build a strong youthful hockey team.
The last five draft classes have seen nine players make their way to the NHL this season, while nine others have played for the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre. The infusion and ladder climbing will not stop with as many as twelve others competing for NHL and AHL jobs next season.
Stocking the system has been Craig Patrick’s top priority over the last three years trading away stars like Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Kovalev, and Martin Straka while acquiring young players like Rico Fata, Sergei Anshakov, Kris Beech, Michal Sivek, and Ross Lupaschuk.
Beech, Sivek and Lupaschuk were lauded as the Jagr-3 and the future of the Penguins but success has not come and more questions remain for the three youngsters while others in the system are working their way up and into the higher ranks of the organization.
No player in the organization has worked harder or rose through the ranks faster than left-winger and Pittsburgh native Ryan Malone. When Malone was drafted by the Penguins in the 4th round of the 1999 draft, the first thing mentioned was his father, Greg Malone.
Malone’s father is the Penguins head scout and his selection gave those who were questioning Craig Patrick more ammunition, asking if the younger Malone was drafted because of nepotism.
After four years of college hockey at St. Cloud State in Minnesota scoring 56 goals and 84 assists in 142 games, Malone signed an amateur tryout contract with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins toward the end of the 2002-03 AHL season.
The Penguins thought enough of his play in three games to sign him to a contract and invited him to his first pro training camp in September. Malone entered camp on a mission to take advantage of his dreams and goals, his mind set worked off.
Coaches, scouts, teammates and fans started to recognize the strong play of Malone on both sides of the ice after he settled down his nerves and scored a goal in his third exhibition game. From that point on Malone has grown to become one of the main building blocks for Patrick and the Penguins to help bring back playoff hockey to the city of Pittsburgh.
While Malone is hoping to inspire young Pittsburgh boys and girls to play hockey, the organization hopes more of their prospects inspire fans to come and cheer for the team. Maybe no other player captured the fans better than last summer’s number one overall pick, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Patrick said he wanted to build the organization from the goaltender out and Fleury’s performance in his first game was nothing short of amazing as he stopped 46 of 48 shots and had the winning Los Angeles Kings shaking their heads by his performance for an 18-year
Veteran left-winger and former Penguin Luc Robitaille had this to say after the game, “Could you believe some of those saves? That was sick.” and Kings Head Coach Andy Murray was no less impressed by stating, “It is obvious he is a real talent. You only have one chance to make a first impression in life and he made a great first impression.”
Though Fleury couldn’t sustain the hot start as the team in front of him struggled to keep the shots against under 40 and was sent back to Cape Breton in January. Even though the demotion was somewhat disappointing for the young goalie, his future still shines bright as the organization has worked to build him a fortress of impressive blueline prospects and much of his demotion was the evils of his contract.
The protector and future leader of the Fleury fortress looks to be defenseman Brooks Orpik and his already nightly open ice punishments have served notice across the NHL. Orpik has steadily improved his offensive instincts and when to move in and out of position for big hits or when to go for pay backs around the net.
All the stats in the world rarely serve justice for defensive defenseman like Orpik and though his stat line isn’t much to be excited about, Penguins head coach Ed Olcyzk said, I don’t think there’s any doubt he has the make-up to be a leader.”
The long term success of the Penguins on the ice will be the result of more players ascending to the top of the organization much like Malone, Fleury and Orpik have done this season.
Back to Prospects Section