BUFFALO, N.Y. -- There's every reason to believe that Sam Lafferty will be getting work in the NHL in the not-terribly distant future.
And several reasons to question whether he will enter the league at his position of choice.
Lafferty, you see, is a center with the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, and the parent club's roster is loaded with guys who play that position. And do it pretty well.
The Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on their top two lines, with Nick Bjugstad and Teddy Blueger projected into the middle of the two units below them.
To say nothing of guys like Jared McCann, Alex Galchenyuk and Dominik Kahun, among others, who are capable of playing multiple positions up front.
But a depth chart crammed with major-league talent at his position isn't Lafferty's only challenge to reaching the NHL. Maybe not even his biggest.
That's because handling faceoffs is a critical part of most centers' job description, and Baby Penguins coach Mike Vellucci said Lafferty's work on draws during the first two games of a prospects tournament here have exposed a flaw that will have to be corrected if Lafferty hopes to play center at the next level.
"He has to work on his faceoffs," Vellucci said. "He hasn't been very good in this tournament. That's something that, if you're going to play center in the National Hockey League, you have to be better on your draws.
"Faceoffs are a big thing. If you're going to play center in the National Hockey League, you have to be above 55 percent, 60, in the American Hockey League."
Mind you, that Lafferty, a fourth-round draft choice in 2014, isn't a finished product is neither a surprise to the Penguins nor a particular concern for them.
After all, he has just 79 professional games on his resume, and spent much of his first full season in the AHL getting acclimated to it.
"Just the schedule, more games (than in college), and obviously, the competition is a little tougher," Lafferty said. "Just the consistency of it. After a year, I know what to expect, and what it takes, day-in and day-out."
He spent four seasons in the Ivy League, at Brown, so it makes sense that he's a quick learner. Indeed, Lafferty has picked up his craft quickly enough that Vellucci believes he is prepared to play for the Penguins this winter, if needed.
"I think he could give them games," Vellucci said, adding that Lafferty is versatile enough to be effective at other positions.
"I don't know if he's necessarily just going to be a center," he said. "He can play the wing, too. I like him on the wing."
Versatility isn't Lafferty's only quality that has made a positive impression. No surprise there, considering his size (6 foot 1, 195 pounds), skating and skill level, among other things.
"I like him a lot," Vellucci said. "He's a very fast player. Pays attention. Very coachable."
Lafferty's talents are complemented by intangibles that made him a logical choice to serve as his team's captain for the first two games of the tournament, which concludes with a game against Buffalo Monday.
"He's not a real vocal leader, but he leads by example, which I like," Vellucci said. "My impressions are that he's a real good kid and that he's going to be a good player, with a little more development."
Lafferty has had a high profile in this tournament, working on the top power play unit and killing penalties while centering the No. 1 line. Lafferty has scored one of the Penguins' five goals and set up another, and seems ready to improve upon his personal numbers -- 13 goals and 36 assists in 70 games -- from last season.
"With his speed and his skill, he should be offensive," Vellucci said. "He should get some points for us."
Do that consistently and clean up a few blemishes, like his work on faceoffs, and Lafferty could convince management that he's ready for the next phase of his career. The one that will take him to PPG Paints Arena, only 90 or so miles from his hometown of Hollidaysburg.
"My biggest objective is just to play as hard as I can, be as confident as possible and just play my game," Lafferty said. "I think that if I do that, good things will happen."
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