The Pittsburgh Penguins have not had an NHL Draft strategy for several years. They simply haven’t needed one.
Years of Penguins trades involving first-round picks and various other selections going to teams in exchange for veterans as the Penguins were in aggressive “win now” mode has a cost, and the Penguins are paying that steep price now as they look to the beleaguered Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for help that isn’t there.
New Penguins president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas, who will also handle the GM duties through July, took a similar situation with the Toronto Maple Leafs. After conducting six draft tables for Toronto, Dubas’s proclivity to trade backward at the NHL Draft is a consistent theme that netted Toronto a half-dozen extra picks.
Six times in six drafts, Dubas’s dealt backward to acquire additional assets, though the strategy’s success is open for debate. In 2022, Dubas moved backward to dump goalie Petr Mrazek’s salary on Chicago. Toronto traded the 25th pick for the 38th pick to move Mrazek and his $3.8 million salary.
In 2015, Dubas made quite a splash and wasn’t even Toronto’s GM. He was an assistant general manager, essentially the interim GM, after Toronto fired GM Dave Nonis, and he made the most of his few weeks in the big chair.
First, from No. 24 for No. 29 and No. 61, then again from 29 into the second round for No. 34 and No. 68. The cumulative effect was Dubas traded his first-round pick (24th overall) for two second-rounders and a third (Nos. 34, 61, 68).
The strategy was not without error.
With that 24th pick, the Ron Hextall-led Philadelphia Flyers picked Travis Konecny. The Maple Leafs ended with Travis Dermott, Jeremy Bracco, and Martins Dzierkals (Demott played 251 games for Toronto before Dubas traded him for a third-round pick to Vancouver in 2021).
Konecny has 332 points, including 141 goals, in 488 NHL games.
A few days after the draft, on July 1, Dubas traded Phil Kessel to the Penguins. Toronto didn’t hire Lou Lamoriello as their GM until July 23.
In 2018, Dubas was officially the Toronto GM, and he again traded down several spots in the first round to add a second-round pick.
This time, the strategy worked beautifully, as Dubas traded the 25th pick to Buffalo for the 29th and 76th picks. Toronto selected defenseman Rasmus Sandin with No. 29 (Buffalo selected Dominik Bokk with the 25th pick, but he has not yet played in the NHL).
Near the 2023 NHL trade deadline, Dubas dealt Sandin to the Washington Capitals but recouped defenseman Erik Gustafsson and a first-round pick (Boston’s pick, No. 28, which the Capitals acquired in the Dmitry Orlov trade).
Sandin played 140 games for Toronto with 48 points (10-38-48).
Dubas’s trading down wasn’t limited to the first round.
In 2020, he traded down in the second round to add a third-round pick. The long-term results of that trade isn’t yet known, but with the pick that Dubas traded (44th overall), the Ottawa Senators selected Tyler Kleven, who played in eight NHL games this season.
Both Maple Leafs-acquired selections in the 2020 deal were Finnish, but neither has yet made the jump to North America.
And in 2022, he traded down in both the third and fourth rounds.
In 2023, Dubas will have the Penguins have the 14th overall selection to play with, which could produce a significant haul in a deep draft.
This year, the Penguins have a first, third (from New Jersey), fifth, sixth, and two seventh-round picks (from Florida and Toronto).
Perhaps we should also note that in 2019, Dubas affixed his 2020 first-rounder (13th overall) to expensive veteran Patrick Marleau so Carolina would take on Marleau and his salary.
That 13th pick became Seth Jarvis, who has 79 points (31-48-79) in 150 NHL games.
Dubas has not been shy about acquiring first-round picks for players, either. In addition to dealing Sandin for a first-round pick, in 2020, he dealt Kasperi Kapanen to the Penguins for a first-rounder.
Dubas will have little time and opportunity to put Pittsburgh Penguins veterans on the NHL trade block, as the Draft is in 20 days, and many of the Penguins have no-movement clauses in their contracts.
But don’t be surprised if Dubas’ first trade as Penguins GM is sliding backward in the first round. He’s got a history.