Pittsburgh Penguins second-round picks are cursed. They are doomed to toil in obscurity, they are doomed to wander the hockey world in search of homes, and they are otherwise guaranteed not to play 200 games with the franchise.
Penguins center Teddy Blueger appears ready to break the long-standing curse.
The last time a second-rounder dared to stick around for a while was Greg Malone in 1976. Since Malone played 475 games in a Penguins sweater, the Penguins Second-Round Curse has been real.
Blueger has a long-standing arc of improving seasons over next. He rose through the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins depth chart, scoring more points (or proportionally) in each successive season.
Blueger scored .57 points per game in his first full professional season (2015-16). The Latvian native then scored .64 points-per-game in his second pro season. And by his third year with the WBS Penguins, Blueger popped 39 points (21g, 18a) in just 45 games for .86 points-per-game.
He’s doing the same thing in the NHL.
“A little more stability, a little more confidence, and a combination of different things. I think I can take my game to the next level and contribute offensively,” Blueger said. “I’ve done it before in the minors, and there’s no reason to think I can’t do it here.”
Last season was Blueger’s first full NHL season, and he maintained defensive responsibilities with linemates Zach Aston-Reese and Brandon Tanev. Blueger scored 22 points (9g, 13a) in 69 games.
This season, Blueger is the Penguins’ third-leading scorer with six points in his first 10 games. Not only does he have points, but his lines have also been productive, and he got a promotion to third-line center.
“I’m holding onto pucks more. I’m feeling more confident. The game has slowed down more to where I see more passing lanes and let the game develop,” Blueger said. “It’s kind of wait, let the game come to me.”
This season, Blueger is already getting a bump up in the lineup, and he admitted last year he knew he had to fight for a spot.
The speedy, tenacious winger has found a partner in crime with Brandon Tanev on his right. After 10 games, Tanev is also on pace for a career year in goals and points.
Blueger may not be the third line center the Penguins envisioned when they signed free agent Mark Jankowski, but thus far, he is doing the job.
“…I know I can be reliable defensively. I know I see more plays develop,” Blueger concluded. “And, I think I’ve developed my skill level, too, so that helps as well.”
Confidence is breeding results. Curse be damned.
Pittsburgh Penguins Second Round Curse
Perhaps we shouldn’t speak too soon. Blueger has played just 107 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but that already makes him the second most successful second-round pick in the last 44 years.
Defenseman Alex Goligoski has carved out a long-lasting career with 877 games played. Still, he played just 177 games with the Penguins before then-GM Ray Shero traded him for sniper James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen.
That haul alone may make Goligoski the Penguins best second-rounder ever. He was drafted by the Penguins (61st overall) in the second round of the 2004 NHL Draft.
In fact, only three Penguins second-rounders, including Blueger and Goligoski, have played more than 100 games with the franchise since Malone. Richard Park was a 1994 draft pick and played 58 games with the team before becoming a well-traveled journeyman. He returned to finish his career with the Penguins in 2011-12 and played another 54 games.
That’s it. That’s the list.
Though we should make a special exemption for goalie Tristan Jarry, who is the only Penguins second-round pick to be selected for the NHL All-Star game. Jarry has played 68 games and counting.
Jarry is also the only Penguins goalie selected in the second round to play more than one NHL game for the team. 1987 pick Rick Tabaracci played one game with the Penguins before having a 10-year career with Winnipeg, Calgary, and Tampa Bay.
But we’re getting off-topic.
Third round picks have been a blessing for the Penguins. Jake Guenztel. Kris Letang. Matt Murray. Bryan Rust.
But second-rounders have a better chance working in the management program of Enterprise Rent-a-Car because they have an excellent corporate structure, and they give you all the tools to be your own boss (Step Brothers reference).
Jarry and Blueger have already broken through, now comes time to slay the curse of the Penguins’ second-round picks.