The Pittsburgh Penguins, under General Manager Ray Shero, built one of the deepest stable of defensive prospects in the entire league. Through the draft, the Penguins have stockpiled so many players that losing an elite puck-moving prospect like Joe Morrow (via trade) barely put a dent in their depth.
While names like Simon Despres, Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta catching most of the headlines, another name has been able to hide in the crowd of blueliners. He was never highly scouted, touted or recruited, but that fact alone could make him one of higher value players in the system.
When you are picked in the last round of the draft, odds are against you making the NHL. For every Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak (ninth round was the last round in 2004) there are dozens more to never sniff the NHL.
You can almost bet that in the five years between his draft year and his first professional season (this year), 2008 seventh-round pick (210th overall) Nicholas D’Agostino had his doubts on whether or not he would ever dress for a game with the team that drafted him, or any team for that matter.
D’Agostino, 23, played one year in the Ontario Junior A Hockey League before heading to Cornell University where he played all four years before finally signing a two-year entry level contract with the Penguins this past May.
D’Agostino was always thought to have NHL potential, but never possessed that one “wow” attribute to stick out to scouts. Four years at Cornell has not only shown he doesn’t need that one attribute, but it has also shown he can have a future in the NHL.
With a great stick, and excellent positioning, D’Agostino has transformed to an excellent two-way defenseman at the college level, and will look to translate that at the professional level. Being one of Cornell’s “tri-captain’s,” he has shown his game doesn’t just end on the ice, but exhibits off-the-ice attributes.
It won’t come easy. D’Agostino starts his pro career older than most of the other prospects vying for playing time, and in most cases, less pro experience. He will start at the very bottom of the pecking order, an order that may doom him to play some time at the ECHL level, but in his case, as long as he is playing, he will get a chance to showcase his skills.
What makes him such an intriguing and dangerous prospect is that, despite his lack of professional hockey experience that some have, his experience and success at the college level should level the playing field.
D’Agostino has played over 130 games at the college level and scored 25-goals in his career, numbers not usually seen out of players who take the college route.
With a long ways to go to be picked up on the NHL radar, and at 23 with even more prospects pouring in, D’Agostino may only have a brief window to present himself as a legit prospect, but he has everything you want to see out a future bottom-pair defender. The Pens must see it, they were willing to wait patiently for five years after they drafted him for him to come along, and this year, he will get to show if the wait was worth it.
It will certainly be an interesting year watching D’Agostino and how he establishes himself in the pro ranks, maybe the Penguins have found a diamond in the rough?