The Pittsburgh Penguins can’t know exactly who they’ll be getting in the first round of the NHL draft July 7 in Montreal.
Not when 20 other clubs will be choosing before them.
However, using history as a barometer, they can get a sense of the caliber of prospect who will be available to them in the 21st slot.
Turns out that teams drafting then hit on a higher percentage of their choices than might be expected, given that projecting how a teenager will develop — and when he might permanently plateau — is difficult, at best.
Regardless of who they claim or what position he plays, the Penguins should expect that their choice will need a few years of additional development in college, major-junior or European hockey before he’s ready to seriously contend for a spot on the major-league roster.
They don’t have to look far for evidence of that; they grabbed Sam Poulin with the 21st pick three years ago and he has yet to skate a regular-season shift in the NHL.
Here’s a look at the past 10 players who went 21st overall, and where their careers stand at this point:
2021 — Fabian Lysell (RW, Boston). He’s a high-end offensive talent — Lysell put up 22 goals and 40 assists in 53 games with Vancouver of the Western Hockey League in 2021-22 — who is capable of playing either wing and could prove to be a game-breaker after he matures physically. A long shot to make the jump to the NHL next season.
2020 — Yegor Chinakhov (RW, Columbus). His adjustment to the NHL and life in North America is far from complete, but Chinakhov reached the league at age 20 and had seven goals and seven assists in 62 games with the Blue Jackets. Chinakhov can play either wing and likely won’t reach his considerable potential for quite a while.
2019 — Sam Poulin (LW, Penguins). He is the only player among the first 22 taken that year who hasn’t made it to the NHL yet. Nonetheless, after a strong second half in Wilkes-Barre that swelled his 72-game totals to 16 goals and 21 assists, GM Ron Hextall named Poulin one of the prospects he expects to challenge for a spot on the NHL roster this fall.
2018 — Ryan Merkley (D, San Jose). Although his defensive game still needs work and his modest size (5-11, 170 pounds) is a concern, Merkley skates well and has good offensive instincts and abilities.
2017 — Filip Chytil (C, New York Rangers). He doesn’t usually play as big as he is (6-2, 210) and has issues with consistency, but Chytil skates well and is a good playmaker whose goal-scoring talents have emerged during the current playoffs, when he has seven goals in 18 games.
2016 — Julien Gauthier (RW, Carolina). He was traded to the Rangers after three seasons in the Hurricanes’ organization, but has yet to have a significant impact in New York. He has just five goals and 13 assists in 96 NHL games, and has not gotten into a game during the 2022 playoffs.
2015 — Colin White (C, Ottawa). White has excellent hockey sense and plays a solid two-way game. His offensive output to this point peaked in 2018-19, when he had career-highs in goals (14), assists (27) and points (41).
2014 — Robby Fabbri (C, St. Louis). After scoring 18 times in his rookie season, his career was knocked off-track by a pair of ACL surgeries in 2016 and 2017. He was having a solid season with the Red Wings, who acquired him in 2019, in 2021-22 with 17 goals and 13 assists in 56 games, before suffering another serious knee injury in March.
2013 — Frederik Gauthier (C, Toronto). Gauthier, now in New Jersey’s organization, has split time between the NHL and American Hockey League the past two seasons, but his defensive acumen and faceoff ability mean he can fill a bottom-six role. His skating, however, is subpar and he has shown little scoring touch.
2012 — Mark Jankowski (C, Calgary). He was pretty much a non-factor during his lone season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but has played 272 games in the NHL, mostly as a bottom-six guy and penalty-killer.