Pittsburgh Penguins prospects on display at Memorial Cup

London Knights practice during the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Sunday....

London Knights practice during the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Sunday. The will play the Portland Winterhawks Monday night. Al Charest/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:54 PM ET

SASKATOON - This Memorial Cup isn't just the chance to see the top three picks in this summer's NHL draft.

You're also getting a sneak peek at half the Stanley Cup-contending Pittsburgh Penguins' defence a few years down the road.

In the last two years, the Pens have used their first two picks on d-men from the same two teams – the London Knights and Portland Winterhawks, who meet Monday night at the Credit Union Centre.

Last summer, they made first-rounders out of 'Hawks offensive-minded blue liner Derrick Pouliot and London's Olli Maatta, who could play for the Finnish world junior team for the fourth time next winter in Sweden.

In 2011, Pittsburgh plucked Portland's Joe Morrow, who they traded to Dallas for Brenden Morrow this season, and Knights captain Scott Harrington in the second round.

“It seems like they take the best available player at the time,” Harrington, the two-time Canadian world junior said. “They like their defencemen, I guess. This week (he will keep a close eye on Pouliot). You look at someone you might be playing with or competing with for a roster spot in the future.

“Everyone keeps an eye on different guys in their organization.”

Pouliot likes to carry the puck. At some point, he could go head-to-head with Harrington or Maatta the way top prospects Nathan MacKinnon of Halifax and Portland mate Seth Jones did Saturday night.

“They could be future teammates,” said the 19-year-old Pouliot, a Weyburn, Sask., native. “The Penguins have drafted quite a few D the last few years. There's lots of competition for sure.”

Who wouldn't want to be teammates of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla in a hurry? Plus, there's Cup bragging rights on the line for training camp next fall.

Pouliot leads one of the most explosive offensive blue lines in junior hockey. They accounted for three of the 'Hawks' four goals against the Mooseheads.

We're an offensive defensive corps, but in our last (WHL final) series against Edmonton, we didn't allow them very many goals or very many chances,” Pouliot said. “It may get overlooked but we take pride in that and strive to be the best at it”

Maatta can play both ways and Harrington, known more for his work in the defensive end, took the power-play shot that led to partner Nikita Zadorov's game-winner over host Saskatoon.

“It seems like all good teams these days have defenceman who can jump up and support the rush and Portland does,” Harrington said. "You can't just have all offensive guys and just defensive guys. They have a nice blend with Pouliot and Jones the offensive (guys) and (Calgary second-rounder Tyler) Wotherspoon and (captain Troy Rutkowski). We have Olli, Dakota (Mermis), Nik (Zadorov) good offensively and defensively while Tommy (Hughes) and myself would be primarily the shutdown guys.”

Maatta said he believes the Knights have the best defensive corps in the country, even after their struggles against Barrie, and was eager to test that statement at the Cup. Portland and Halifax, on back-to-back nights, is a heck of a final exam.

“Both teams have lots of guys – there's (350) points on Portland's first line,” Harrington said, “and Halifax, the two higher-end guys (MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin), and (Martin) Frk on their line. It'll be tough but I'm looking forward to it. That's what you look forward to as a defenceman is trying to shut down the other team's top forwards.”

They struggled against Barrie's Scheifele. They allowed two goals to Saskatoon's leading scorer Josh Nicholls.

“That's in the past,” Harrington said. “We got the job done. We're not trying to prove anything. We're a unit and we stick together. We just go out every night and try to give our team the best chance of winning.”

They'll face a desperate team backed by 'Hawks veteran overage goalie Mac Carruth, who has a chip on his shoulder after allowing seven Halifax goals.

“Seth Jones kind of got hung out to dry by you guys (the media),” Carruth said. “I thought Seth played well. That's not his fault. It's mine. “They (the Mooseheads) were good in net. Better than us. As a team, I thought we played better than they did. We just didn't get the bounces. Didn't have the goaltending.”

The Knights want to keep Carruth guessing. They're going to cycle, trap and try to slow down and frustrate the Western league champs.

“We lost a big game,” Portland head coach Travis Green said. “I'm expecting our team will respond.

“Our guys will be ready to play. They're going to be great.”

And no matter who wins, Pittsburgh benefits.

 

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/RyanatLFPress


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