Penguins' Prospect Development Camp to Showcase NHL's Best Defensive Depth

James ConleyContributor IIIJuly 10, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 30:  Joseph Morrow #70 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates up the ice against the Chicago Blackhawks during a preseason game at the United Center on September 30, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Penguins defeated the Blackhawks 4-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins will host their prospect development camp this week, July 10-14, as prospects from all levels of the organization are invited to take part in the five-day minicamp at CONSOL Energy Center.

Among the list of 34 attendees will be Pittsburgh's unrivaled crop of blue-liners, including former first-round picks Simon Despres, Joe Morrow, Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maata, as well as 2011 second-round standout Scott Harrington and 2012 trade acquisitions Brian Dumoulin and Harrison Ruopp.

The forwards group will be headlined by 2010 first-round pick Beau Bennett and plus-prospects Dominik Uher and Tom Kuhnhackl, as well as 2012 draft products Teddy Blueger, Oskar Sundqvist and speedster Matia Marcantuoni.

[See the full list of camp attendees here]

The five-day camp will include a host of on- and off-ice activities which the Penguins' team website has described as "a week of hockey school:"

The camp, which runs through Saturday, will be run by [Assistant to the GM Tom] Fitzgerald, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes, WBS assistant coach Alain Nasreddine, Penguins goaltending coach Gilles Meloche, Penguins player development coach Bill Guerin, Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar and WBS strength and conditioning coach Joe Lorincz.

Pittsburgh, under the direction of GM Ray Shero and head coaches Dan Bylsma and Michel Therrien, has structured their organization to be many versions of the same basic concept.

Draft selections are made as much on a player's ability to be a Penguin as their ability to be a goalscorer or shutdown guy.

Much of what makes up the so-called "Penguins hockey," whether the broad philosophy of north-south skating or details such as defensive systems and on-ice communications, are held true throughout all three levels of the pro organization, including ECHL Wheeling, AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Pittsburgh.

New prospects will get their first taste of this pervasive hockey philosophy at development camp.

"We try to create an understanding of what it’s like to be a Pittsburgh Penguin, not only on the ice, but off the ice,” Fitzgerald said. “Because the reality is that they now represent the city of Pittsburgh. They’re going to be judged on their actions. We just try to create that environment.”

After fielding the team's largest and perhaps most impressive draft class since the lockout, this camp figures to be intriguing.

"This is the best collection of prospects at camp we’ve had,” Fitzgerald sad. “Without a doubt.”

Headlining that collection are the aforementioned defensive prospects. As far as ceilings and potential go, the Penguins might have an entire top-six blue line in the making with Despres, Morrow, Harrington, Pouliot, Maata and Dumoulin.

Despres figures to battle Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo for Zbynek Michalek's vacated roster spot during training camp. Despres posted four points and a plus-7 rating in 21 regular season and postseason games with Pittsburgh last year.

Morrow, rated as the Pens' best defensive prospect by Hockey's Future, pushed for an NHL roster spot up to the final preseason game of 2011 before being returned to Portland of the OHL.

Assuming RFA Brian Strait is not tendered an offer or the team moves Ben Lovejoy, who fell out of favor last season, Morrow could make another hard push for an NHL spot this summer.

Development camp is one of the early preparations for a season, and only a handful of these players will spend significant time in September training camp, let alone compete for an NHL roster spot.

Nonetheless, it will be a good first look at the team's future assets, with some of them being introduced to the Penguins' culture for the first time.

"On the ice, it’s not about execution and scoring goals,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s about us educating them and giving them an understanding of what it’s like to be a Pittsburgh Penguin."