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Two of the NHL's Youngest Square off in Pittsburgh

Friday, 10.20.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
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Two of the NHL\'s Youngest Square off in Pittsburgh

by John Carlisle, bluejackets.com 

Quite often success in the NHL hinges on an organization’s ability to draft well, to acquire prospects and to develop young talent. With a combined 19 first-round Entry Draft picks on the two teams’ roster–10 for Columbus, nine for Pittsburgh–both clubs are getting a real evaluation of their abilities.

The Blue Jackets (2-2-1) head to the Steel City on Saturday to play the Penguins (3-3-0) at 7:30 p.m. in Mellon Arena. Live coverage on FSN Ohio begins with IceBreaker, the pre-game show, at 7 p.m. and includes the Blue Jackets Ice Cap post-game show immediately following the game.

Of Columbus’ 10 first-rounders, five–Rick Nash, Nikolai Zherdev, Pascal Leclaire, Gilbert Brule and Rostislav Klesla–are homegrown picks of the organization. Nash has already posted two seasons with 30+goals, and Zherdev nearly notched 30 last year, scoring 27. Leclaire has played solidly as the CBJ’s No. 1 goaltender, and the 19-year-old Brule has proved his adaptability already, skating well on various scoring lines.

"Both teams have been drafting high for the past five or six years, and you hope those picks pan out for you," Jackets head coach Gerard Gallant said. "These are two teams that have been rebuilding and are going to be real good for a long time.”

Those high draft picks have resulted, unfortunately, from several years of undesirable finishes. The Blue Jackets have yet to finish above .500 in their five-season history while the Penguins have not had a winning season since 2000-01. However, both teams aspire to turn that around this year and appear to have the talent in place to do it.

It’s young talent, too. Both teams boast having 10 rostered players 25 or younger. Columbus’ two leading goal scorers from 2005-06, Nash and Zherdev, are 22 and 21 respectively. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh’s 19-year-old star forward, collected a staggering 39-63-102 in his rookie campaign last year. He’s the youngest player in NHL history to surpass the 100-point plateau.

Like Columbus, the Penguins have passed the netminding torch to a youngster. Marc-Andre Fleury, 21, has started all six games for Pittsburgh to this point.

The Jackets will look to capitalize on Fleury’s youth and perhaps generate some offense. They have struggled scoring goals in their last two games, losing to Minnesota 5-0 last Saturday and to Toronto 4-2 Friday. Centers Manny Malhotra and Alexander Svitov collected goals against the Maple Leafs.

Pittsburgh had Friday off after beating the Islanders, 4-3, in overtime Thursday. Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin will attempt to extend his goal-scoring streak to three. Malkin, whom Pittsburgh selected second overall in the 2004 entry draft, has played only two games in the NHL and has scored goals in both of them.

The CBJ handed Pittsburgh a 6-1 defeat at Nationwide Arena when the two teams met in January of last season. Nash scored faster than anyone in Blue Jackets history when he slapped in a goal 10 seconds into the game. The Jackets are 3-2-2 lifetime against Pittsburgh.

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