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Penguins Notebook: Not Having No. 3 Draft Pick Might Sting, Too

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Bryan Rust, Kris Letang

It’s no secret that the Pittsburgh Penguins won’t a have first-round pick in next month’s NHL Draft, having sent it to San Jose as part of the package that landed Erik Karlsson last summer.

What might get overlooked is that they also will sit out the third round, with that pick and winger Brock McGinn going to Anaheim for defenseman Dmitry Kulikov in 2023.

History suggests that not having a third-rounder might be only slightly less significant for them than being without a No. 1.

Consider this: Three Penguins first-round choices — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury — were on their most recent Stanley Cup-winning team, in 2017. Their teammates included four guys — Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust and Matt Murray — the Penguins had claimed in Round 3 of their draft years.

And those weren’t the Penguins’ only third-rounders selected in the years after Letang (2005) who went on to become regulars in the NHL. Brian Strait (2006), Robert Bortuzzo (2007) and Oskar Sundqvist (2012) are on that list.

The Penguins’ propensity for trading No. 1 picks in return for immediate roster upgrades is well-known, but they’ve also parted with almost the same number of third-round selections in the past 20 drafts.

During that time, they have not had a first-round choice seven times, while going without a third-rounder on six occasions.

Canuckling down

Vancouver has come to be known to some as “Pittsburgh West” over the past few years, and understandably so.

After all, former Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is the Canucks’ president of hockey operations, GM Patrik Allvin was an assistant GM here and ex-Penguins winger and assistant coach Rick Tocchet is the head coach, leading a staff that includes former Penguins assistant Mike Yeo.

What’s more, ex-Penguins defenseman and assistant coach Sergei Gonchar is Vancouver’s defensive development coach and Mikael Samuelsson — probably best known as the forward the Penguins sent to Florida as part of the deal that secured the first-round draft choice that was used to claim Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003 — works in player development.

And then there are the players with ties to the Penguins.

Lots and lots of players.

The Canucks had 25 players who appeared in 20 or more games during the regular season; no fewer that five of them — forwards Teddy Blueger and Sam Lafferty, defensemen Ian Cole and Mark Friedman and goalie Casey DeSmith — played for the Penguins earlier in their careers.

And that’s not counting center J.T. Miller, who has deep roots in this region.

While there has been speculation that Vancouver will try to add Guentzel, who is scheduled to be a free agent this summer, he wouldn’t necessarily see a lot of familiar faces if he joins the Canucks.

It seems that all five of the Penguins alums who were members of the Canucks during the 2023-24 season are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer, and it isn’t clear whether keeping any of them will be a priority for all those guys in the front office whose resumes include stints with the Penguins.

Road to success

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won five Stanley Cups.

The next one they win at PPG Paints Arena — or anywhere else in their home city — will be the first.

Fact is, they’ve had only one opportunity to close out a Cup Final here — that would be Game 5 against San Jose in 2016 — and the Sharks managed to extend the series with a 4-2 victory

The Penguins’ history certainly does nothing to undermine the hockey axiom that being able to consistently win on the road is critical for teams with championship aspirations.

The clubs currently holding 2-1 leads in their respective conference finals, the New York Rangers and Dallas, have done so; the Rangers are 5-1 away from Madison Square Garden, while the Stars have gone 6-1 outside of Texas against the formidable trio of Vegas, Colorado and Edmonton.