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Penguins Hold 21st Pick in NHL Draft … But That Could Change

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The Pittsburgh Penguins own the 21st choice in Round 1 of the NHL draft, which will be held Thursday and Friday in Montreal.

Whether that’s where they’ll actually end up picking remains to be seen.

A source knowledgeable about the team’s plans said a few days ago that Ron Hextall had not explored the possibility of moving up or down in the draft order, but noted that if such a move were to be made, it likely would happen on the floor of the Bell Centre while the draft is in progress.

If Hextall does work out a trade on the floor, it’s unlikely to rival the one Brian Burke, now the Penguins’ president of hockey operations, orchestrated while he was GM in Vancouver in 1999.

Burke worked out a series of swaps that made it possible for the Canucks to end up with the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, who became the foundation of the franchise for nearly two decades.

If the Penguins retain their No. 1 pick — and that seems like their most likely course of action, for now — it will be their first opening-round choice since they claimed Sam Poulin in 2019 and just their second since taking Kasperi Kapanen in 2014.

*** Barring a trade, the Penguins will make five selections for the second year in a row.

The headliner in 2021 was center Tristan Broz, who had been with Fargo of the USHL and now is attending the University of Denver after spending his freshman year at the University of Minnesota. The next three choices were defensemen who had junior backgrounds — Isaac Belliveau (Gatineau, QMJHL), Ryan McCleary (Portland, WHL) and Daniel Laatsch (Sioux City, USHL) — while their final one was invested in Russian forward Kirill Tankov.

Laatsch also has moved on to college hockey (Wisconsin), so the class effectively was split between two prospects who would develop in major-junior hockey and a couple who will do it in college.

Perhaps it’s fitting that it broke down that way in Hextall’s first draft as GM, because director of amateur scouting Nick Pryor said the front office does not have a preference for where players elect to prepare for pro careers.

“Obviously, those things are talking points (among members of the scouring staff),” he said. “But I don’t think there’s one that’s better than the other.”

***Consistently trading away early-round picks for instant roster upgrades obviously has depleted the Pittsburgh Penguins’ pool of prospects, but even considering that, their record of drafting and/or developing is about as impressive as Antti Niemi’s three-game cameo with them in 2017 was.

Of the 31 players they have selected in the past half-dozen drafts, only five have made even a cursory appearance in the NHL. That group has combined to play 53 man-games in the league, the vast majority of which have been with teams other than the Penguins.

Goalie Filip Gustavsson, who went to Ottawa in the Derick Brassard trade, has made it into 27 games with the Senators, while defenseman Calen Addison, sent to Minnesota in the Jason Zucker deal, has played 18 with the Wild.

The three draftees who have pulled on a Penguins sweater are Kasper Bjorkqvist (six games), and Filip Hallander (one) and Valtteri Puustinen (one).

Puustinen was a seventh-round selection; the other four who’ve reached the NHL were claimed in Round 2.

*** Because of the deals that brought Jeff Carter and Rickard Rakell to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team is not scheduled to pick in the second or third round.

That surely has to be frustrating for the scouts who spend many months evaluating and ranking the prospects available in a given year, although Pryor said most accept it as an occupational hazard.

“We scouts understand why picks are moved — to make the big team better,” he said. “To make the Penguins better. …. Every team goes through it. Some years, they have more (picks) than others.”

Of course, there’s always a chance that Hextall will acquire a selection in the second or third. And even if that doesn’t happen, some prospects the Penguins figured would be taken by the time their turn in Round 4 arrives might still be on the board.

“You never know,” Pryor said. “Someone we have rated in the second or third round could be available in the fourth round. You never know what every other team is thinking.

“When you pick in the first and wait until the fourth, there’s some time that goes by and there are some players that you like who get selected, but hopefully, someone falls into the fourth round that we had rated a little higher.”

*** Unless, they make a trade, the Penguins will have the Nos. 21, 118, 150, 182 and 214 choices in the draft, which will wrap up with Rounds 2-7 Friday.

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David
David
1 month ago

21st will probably not be a high impact player — plus no one knows how these kids will adapt to the NHL. Remember Derrick Pouliot? Trade it for someone who you know will help the team — maybe lump in another player and clear cap space. The Pens don’t have a 2nd or 3rd round pick so they will need to do something.

Kurt Hartz
Kurt Hartz
1 month ago
Reply to  David

Don’t hold your breath, in my opinion they should have traded Letang at the deadline and recoup anything that they could have ? He is constantly turning over the puck at the worst possible time in a game and everyone thinks Brian Dumo had an off season last year yeah that’s what happens when you have a defender that wants to be Crosby . I actually felt bad for Dumo last year because every time I would watch a game same thing time after time even in games that they won Dumo looked wore out after the first 25 game’s… Read more »

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