The Pittsburgh Penguins, like every other NHL club, are keenly aware that drafting teenaged hockey players is the most imprecise of sciences.
There is no way of being certain when even the most promising young player’s development will plateau. Or that he won’t suddenly stop growing. Or decide that hockey really isn’t the way he’d like to earn a living, after all.
Which is why, for every Mario Lemieux or Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid who exceeds even the most unreasonable expectations that come with being the first player selected in his draft year, there is a Nail Yakupov or Patrik Stefan or Alexandre Daigle who also went first overall, but whose greatest impact in the NHL might be as the answer to a trivia question.
All three of the players the Pittsburgh Penguins have chosen No. 1 overall — Marc-Andre Fleury was the other — worked out quite nicely, but the same can’t be said of more than a few of their picks they’ve made later in the first round over the years.
Here’s a look at the worst Round 1 flubs in franchise history, and a sampling of the players who were still available when the Penguins made those unfortunate choices.
1975 — Gordie Laxton (13th overall). He was touted as the franchise’s goaltender of the future. That future still hasn’t arrived.
Who they could have had: Pierre Mondou (15th), Dennis Maruk (21st) or Doug Jarvis (24th)
1982 — Rich Sutter (10th overall). He will go down as the least accomplished of the six Sutter brothers who reached the NHL, and was pointless (in several ways) in nine games here before being traded to Philadelphia, where he was reunited with his twin, Ron.
Who they could have had: Dave Andreychuk (16th), Ken Daneyko (18th) or Patrick Flatley (21st).
1984 — Roger Belanger (16th overall). Getting Lemieux and Doug Bodger earlier in Round 1 assured this would be an epic draft for the franchise. Good thing, too, since Belanger got into just 44 games with the Penguins during his only season in the NHL.
Who they could have had: Stephane Richer (29), Patrick Roy (51) or Brett Hull (117).
1994 — Chris Wells (24th overall). After putting up two goals and two assists in 54 games with the Penguins, Wells made his biggest contribution to them by netting Stu Barnes and Jason Woolley in a trade with Florida.
Who they could have had: Jose Theodore (44), Patrik Elias (51) or Milan Hejduk (87).
1996 — Craig Hillier (23rd overall). At least Gordie Laxton made it into 17 NHL games, which is 17 more than the Penguins’ next “goalie of the future” appeared in.
Who they could have had: Daniel Briere (24), Matt Cullen (35) or Zdeno Chara (56).
1997 — Robert Dome (17th overall). Dome was purported to be NHL-ready after a stint in the International Hockey League, and his selection caused quite a buzz in the draft at the Civic Arena. Which probably was the last time he created any excitement there.
Who they could have had: Scott Hannan (23), Brenden Morrow (25) or Brian Campbell (156).
2007 — Angelo Esposito (20th overall). The Pittsburgh Penguins gambled by taking Esposito, who once had been a near-consensus choice as the top player available in this draft. That gamble did not pay off. Not even a little.
Who they could have had: Max Pacioretty (22), P.K. Subban (43) or Jamie Benn (129).
2012 — Derrick Pouliot (8th overall). Pouliot skates well and showed some genuine offensive talent, but he’s put up more than 12 points just once since entering the NHL.
Who they could have had: Filip Forsberg (11), Colton Parayko (86) or Jaccob Slavin (120). Oh, and the Penguins also could have claimed Jacob Trouba, who went to Winnipeg immediately after they picked Pouliot, or Tom Wilson, taken 16th overall by Washington.