Unsigned Draft Picks Ekbom, Bathgate Released

Monday, May 30, 2011
Bathgate was the Penguins 5th round pick in 2009.
I figured the decision would come out soon on the un-signed draft picks, as the Penguins have until Wednesday (June 1st) to either sign them or release them into this year's draft pool. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette is reporting that the Penguins have indeed decided not to sign prospects Andy Bathgate (pictured above) and Swedish defensman Viktor Ekbom.

But what about goaltender Alexander Pechurskiy, also an un-signed draft pick in the Penguins organization?

Both Bathgate and Ekbom joined the Penguins after their respective seasons in the OHL and Swedish Elite League were finished. They were also both a part of the WBS Penguins black aces squad during the playoffs.

Bathgate made his Penguins debut on April 9th against the Hershey Bears and also played in the team's season finale the next night against the Adirondack Phantoms. He registered no points in those games with a -2 rating.  The grandson of the Hall of Fame player by the same name didn't look out of place at the AHL level but concerns about his health could have made this an easier decision for the organization. Listed at 6-1 and only 180 pounds, the 20-year-old still has room to grow to become a more durable player capable of taking checks from 6-4, 200+ lbs. defensemen at the AHL level on a nightly basis. That being said, he could be selected in this year's draft in late June.

Ekbom was the Penguins 6th round pick, also in 2009.

Ekbom, a 6-3 202 pound defenseman who turns 22 on June 1st, played in three games for the Penguins with his debut on April 1st. He also played the final two games of the AHL Pens season along with Bathgate. Ekbom didn't appear on the score sheet and had an even rating in his short tenure with the Penguins. Organizational depth had to be a factor in letting Ekbom go, with seven guys signed in the NHL and the likes of Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait, Carl Sneep and Alex Grant in the prospect pool. I liked what I saw from Ekbom in the two games I saw him play in: a fluid skater and good passer capable of playing well in his own zone. He wasn't a scoring threat in Sweden.

That leaves a third unsigned draft pick in question, Alexander Pechurskiy, without a verdict from the organization as far as I know. I'm under the assumption, along with WBS Penguins beat writer Jonathan Bombulie, that Pechurskiy is also on the list with Bathgate and Ekbom as an unsigned draft pick. With Patrick Killeen and Mattias Modig both signed through next seasaon (Killeen for 2 years), I'm not sure if there's room for Pechurskiy to play in the organization. Granted both John Curry (UFA) and Brad Thiessen (RFA) are free agents, but after the season Thiessen had he is basically a lock to be back in 2011-12.

The question is whether or not the Penguins can keep Curry under contract next season. If he stays, Curry would most likely be the #4 goalie in the organization. The 27-year-old goaltender is entering what most would consider the prime years of his career and could opt to leave the organization in search of a starting job for a different AHL team or even a backup role somewhere in the NHL.

That would leave the backup spot in the AHL open for either of the two remaining goalies under contract (Killeen & Modig), Pechurskiy (if signed by Wednesday) or possibly a different veteran AHL goalie in the free agent market in July. I believe that Curry is on his way out, but the signing of Pechurskiy in the next two days would seemingly guarantee that.

One final question. Who would you LIKE to see as the backup goalie next season in Wilkes-Barre, and who do you think WILL be the #2 guy for the Penguins AHL affiliate in 2011-12?


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