The NHL expansion draft and the 2021 NHL Draft are over, but teams will not get a breather as the NHL free-agent frenzy begins on Wednesday. Teams now have a clear picture of their situation, and we have a clearer picture of who is better and who is worse. The Draft weekend had some clear winners, including some in the Metro Division, while the Pittsburgh Penguins moved along on their own path with a few solid picks, a “show-me” deal, and sources tipped off PHN on what’s to come for the Penguins.
It was a wild weekend, and here’s everything you missed unless you read all 12 stories on PHN.
Sources told PHN what to expect in the coming weeks, including the Penguins trade hopes and what holes they’re specifically trying to fill.
Some secondary sources put the Penguins’ name on the trade-rumor list for Arizona’s Christian Dvorak. We haven’t detected anything serious there, just as we didn’t detect anything serious regarding Marcus Pettersson or Jason Zucker leading into the draft.
The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t pick until Round Two (58th overall). GM Ron Hextall and Director of Player Personnel Chris Pryor visited their favorite hunting grounds–the USHL for Tristan Broz.
Broz said the NHL is his goal. Even though he’s headed to the University of Minnesota, he’ll leave when the Penguins feel he’s ready. The young man has some personality. He grew up in Minnesota but became a Penguins fan because “The Wild were a boring team, boring to watch, and I had to take my fandom elsewhere.” Never change, kid.
Before the draft, the Penguins signed former prospect Kasper Bjorkqvist, who hasn’t yet distinguished himself in North America, but he had a pretty good season in Finland. So, he earned him another shot with the Penguins on a one-year, two-way deal.
The Penguins didn’t pick again until the fifth round. Consider this a bit of criticism or questioning; draft picks were being traded with frequency and ease, but the Penguins didn’t acquire any additional picks. There was some real meat on the bone in the third and fourth round. Given the Penguins’ empty prospects cupboard, that seems to be a missed opportunity.
Pryor gave a pretty thorough accounting, including “an edge to his game,” of fifth-round pick Isaac Belliveau out of the QMJHL.
And the Penguins picked up three prospects in the seventh round. Ordinarily, a seventh-round pick would be a player never-to-be-heard-from again. However, the pandemic delayed development and access for many prospects, which made this year’s final rounds both difficult to assess and full of talent.
The Pittsburgh Penguins got a couple of raw players for whom they have hopes of meeting in the future, including a Russian center who played in Evgeni Malkin’s hockey hometown.
The Penguins didn’t get better. They didn’t create cap space, nor did they add assets. Perhaps one or a few draft picks will become useful NHL players; Belliveau and Broz have solid chances.
The Tristan Broz pick was interesting as a few players with first-round grades fell to them, such as Swedish winger Simon Robertsson who scouts believe had the best wrister in the draft. Pryor and Hextall have a good draft record so there is every reason to believe they made a good choice, but they also could have traded down for Broz.
Hextall certainly is a patient, straight-laced GM.
This was the approach the 2018 and 2019 Pittsburgh Penguins needed. But the Penguins largely punted as their closest rivals made big moves. We’ll see what follows in the coming days, but I know many of you were expecting Hextall to trade veterans for picks. We didn’t hear any Penguins trade chatter involving veterans for picks before the draft, and we haven’t heard any actual chatter after the draft (yet).
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Hextall have more holes to fill than they did a week ago. The expansion draft took more talent than it freed up money. The Penguins appear to be atrophying rather than re-positioning themselves.
We will explore that topic in the coming days as we get more background and more input from league sources and, hopefully, internal sources.