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NHL Draft

Trades and Picks: 5 Bold and Not So Bold Penguins Draft Predictions



Pittsburgh Penguins, 2023 NHL Draft, Connor Bedard, Nate Danielson, Zach Benson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Pittsburgh Penguins currently have their first top-15 pick in the NHL Draft since 2012, and their first since selecting Jordan Staal with the third overall pick in 2006. Given the depth and variety of options in the first round, the Penguins have more than a few choices.

After spending a few weeks in the research library of National Hockey Now, which rivals Harvard’s Elkins Library regarding the talent within and resources available (not really), the Penguins’ picture is a little clearer than it was not so long ago.

The NHL trade carousel is spinning quickly. Beginning Monday, when the GMs got to press the flesh, the deals have been hitting the NHL transaction office fast and furious.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Tyler Toffoli, and Alex Newhook all have new homes. Ross Colton joined them on the trade list Wednesday morning. Yet, there’s been nary a peep about the Penguins’ trade talks.

That’s because the decision-making process is largely confined to just a couple, or a few, people until July, when president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas revisits the GM search. Dubas and assistant GM Jason Spezza are the core of the Penguins’ front office at the moment.

With that framework in place, I’m confident in making five predictions for the Penguins’ 2023 NHL Draft, and one or two may even come true, or the opposite of all five will happen.

5 Pittsburgh Penguins Draft Predictions:

1. The Penguins will keep the 14th overall pick

No, that won’t burn up ink in the papers or electrons on the internet, but given the talent available, it’s becoming clear that moving down in the draft would be a gamble. The Penguins are on the right side of the talent line; the talent will drop off after about the first 16 or 18 picks. There should be a top-six forward or top-nine center waiting for the Penguins at 14, and it’s tough to pass on that for a slightly riskier pick, such as inconsistent Dalibor Dvorsky, or safer but lower-ceiling players such as Brayden Yager or David Reinbacher.

2. The Penguins will NOT make a splashy trade

Trades can take weeks, if not longer. The Penguins and Dubas are sailing in choppy waters, trying to find castaways who fit their team structure, needs, and short-term salary cap goals. There won’t be big-name, long-term free agents, and it’s very unlikely we’ll see a Penguins trade for a veteran with a long-term contract.

Dubas seems to have decided winning now means players for the “now” on contracts for the “now,” and not ill-fitting contracts to be stuck with during the future Penguins rebuild.

Sure, Dubas has money to spend, but it doesn’t appear to be burning a hole in his pocket, as it did his two predecessors, who gave full-market contracts to veteran players to keep them around (Kris Letang’s and Evgeni Malkin’s unique deals are the exceptions).

The negotiations to move an unwanted contract on the trade front are tricky. While it’s surely possible that Dubas can pull it off, finding the right team at the right time and the right deal is just a tad bit trickier than playing around on a website or Twitter (and probably not as fun).

The NHL Draft is probably where the deal is advanced, if not conceived, but it feels unlikely to be consummated here.

Feel free to serve my words with a fork when it happens Thursday morning.

3. The Penguins will acquire bottom-six help on Thursday. 

Looking into the crystal ball, the Penguins’ management will be so happy with their haul in the first round that they will splurge a third-round pick on a useful player for their bottom-six rather than pay free-agent prices — which is like buying a bag of chips at 7-11. You’re going to pay full price, plus tax.

The alternate prediction is that a third-round pick is dealt for more picks in the fourth round.

4. All three primary Penguins free agents will hit the market

At the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal, the Penguins broke the news that they signed Kris Letang to a six-year deal, thus avoiding free agency. It was a small surprise, as even Letang’s young son Alex told the assembled media that the family had been shopping for new cities to live.

That was pretty funny.

This year, we don’t expect Tristan Jarry, Jason Zucker, or Brian Dumoulin to make news by signing contracts. Dubas was careful with his wording last week when he confirmed the team would be talking to them this week, but he struck neither an optimistic tone nor a dour note.

The sense from this writer was that if players wanted to stay based on the Penguins’ terms, they could. If they want full value or more than the Penguins offer, they will hit the open market. Dumoulin remains the most plausible to re-sign if he’s willing to take a low-money, third-pairing defenseman contract.

Zucker must be curious what 27 goals will fetch, and Jarry must be curious about what being the only starting goalie on the UFA market will mean.

Hitting the market doesn’t mean they won’t re-sign with the Penguins; it just means they will probably see what others think of them and weigh the options.

5. The Penguins get Zach Benson

I just have a gut feeling. That’s all. Last year, I felt small defenseman Lane Hutson would fall to them, and he did, but Hextall passed (Hutson set freshman records with Boston University last season). In 2019, records show I was high on Thomas Harley and Sam Poulin. Take that for what it’s worth.

The teams in front of the Penguins are bad. They need to fortify the blue line and the middle of the ice. I think Nate Danielson will go higher than he should. Oliver Moore’s speed and shot make him a sure-fire middle-six NHL winger, perhaps immediately. Ryan Leonard has the top-six skills and grit. Axel Sandin Pellikka’s larger (than Benson) size and play in the Swedish Elite League will make him quite attractive, too.

It’s no knock on Benson. Every bit of film I’ve watched shows a smaller kid with no fear, good skates, and a real feel of the game. He’s not afraid to dig on the wall and knows how to find the open spot between the dots. I see him as a Mitch Marner-type.

If Benson is taken and Moore is available, I like Moore more than Gabe Perrault, who didn’t track well later in the season. However, the top pure center who could be there (but I don’t think will be) is Nate Danielson. His stock seems to have risen a few more notches since the end of the season.

The Matvei Michkov situation and possible trades in and out of the top 10 could wreak havoc on my gut feeling, though.