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NHL Draft

Revisiting Recent Penguins Drafts; Painful Misses & Ones They Got Right

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Penguins trade, 2024 NHL Draft

The NHL Draft is not only an inexact science; sometimes, it’s more of a guessing game. Selecting 18-year-olds who sometimes are still growing is much a different task than the NFL Draft and choosing from young men who have cleared the last stages of puberty and are old enough to order alcohol in the United States.

The Pittsburgh Penguins prospect pipeline is slowly refilling. Still, comparatively, with all but one first-round pick traded between 2014 and 2021, the team put itself in a more difficult spot to keep the pipeline fresh. With so few picks since the team began winning Stanley Cups and chasing more without regard for the future, each pick became more valuable.

There were plenty of misses in that process, including a future Norris Trophy winner on the board in 2016.

From former general managers Jim Rutherford and Ron Hextall, the Penguins have struggled to find NHL talent. The jury will remain out for another year or two on the current president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas’s 2023 draft class, though Dubas has expressed a keen interest in acquiring more prospects and picks.

For comparison, we’re looking at players selected within reasonable proximity to the Penguins’ pick.

Penguins 2016 Draft

The Penguins had two picks in the second round of the 2016 Draft (55th and 61st), selecting goalie Filip Gustavsson with the first and forward Kasper Bjorkvist with the second.

A year later, Rutherford used Gustavsson as a centerpiece in the Penguins’ trade with the Ottawa Senators for Derrick Brassard. After a few years of struggling to stick with Ottawa, Gustavsson has become a serviceable backup or 1A-type goalie with the Minnesota Wild.

Bjorkqvist completed his junior year at Providence College before joining the Penguins organization. However, his subpar skating limited his professional contributions to just six NHL games before he bolted for the Finnish Elite League in 2022.

On the board when the Penguins selected: Adam Fox, who the Carolina Hurricanes selected with the 66th overall pick. Fox has become one of the best defensemen in the NHL and won the 2021 Norris Trophy. Dillon Dube and Taylor Raddysh were also on the board when the Penguins selected at No. 55.

Penguins Draft 2017

The 2017 Draft was the worst in the Penguins’ history. That’s not a joke or exaggeration. The team received exactly zero NHL games from its draft class, which began with Zachary Lauzon (51st overall) in the second round and Clayton Phillips (93rd) in the third round.

Lauzon suffered severe concussion issues and left junior hockey before turning pro.

After completing his college eligibility with the newly Division-One Penn State program, Phillips played just one game on a PTO with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL at the end of 2022. He was not offered a contract by the organization, and in 2022-23, he played one season in the ECHL before leaving professional hockey.

On the board: Buffalo Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (drafted 54th overall) and Morgan Geekie (67th). In fact, 12 players who played at least 60 NHL games were selected between the Penguins’ picks. Three players who have played at least 200 NHL games were selected after Phillips, including current Penguins RFA Emil Bemstrom.

Penguins Draft 2018

Once again, the Penguins were without a first-round choice, this time due to the Brassard trade. That pick changed hands from Ottawa to the New York Rangers, who used it to select K’Andre Miller.

The Penguins’ top prospect from the 2018 class was defenseman Calen Addison, selected 53rd overall, who became a primary piece in the team’s trade with the Minnesota Wild for Jason Zucker. Addison has cracked the NHL, but his spot seems a bit tenuous with Minnesota.

Only one player behind Addison has played more NHL games (Jack McBain, 159 games), so the Penguins got this one right.

Penguins Draft 2019

For the first time since 2014, the Penguins kept their first-round pick, using it to select Sam Poulin (21st overall). Poulin is still struggling to break free from the WBS Penguins orbit, and he might not stick in the NHL.

The four players selected immediately following Poulin have played at least 120 NHL games, including Philip Tomasino (Nashville) and Connor McMichael (Washington). Neither of those prospects is yet a staple of their team’s lineup, but McMichael became an NHL regular this season, playing 80 games with 33 points (18-15-33).

Penguins Draft 2020

It was the first draft class for Ron Hextall, and his small circle. Goalies were on the menu. With the 52nd overall pick, the team selected current top prospect Joel Blomqvist. After a couple of seasons in Finland, Blomqvist made the full-time leap to North America and had a strong season with the WBS Penguins, posting a .921 save percentage.

Read More: Full Scouting Report Joel Blomqvist (+)

He could challenge for an NHL job this season. The two picks directly behind Blomqvist were Vasily Ponomarev (now Penguins’ property as a result of the Jake Guentzel trade) and touted Philadelphia Flyers prospect defenseman Emil Andrae.

Neither Ponomarev nor Andrae have become NHL players, playing two and four games, respectively. Only three picks from the 20 players selected after Blomqvist have played at least 41 NHL games.

There’s a strong possibility the Penguins snagged the best player available.

Penguins 2021 NHL Draft

The 2021 Draft class has not produced much NHL talent for any team. To be kind, it was weak sauce.

Per tradition, the Penguins were without a first-round pick, but even that pick (Carson Lambos, Minnesota) has not yet reached the NHL. Only three players selected after what would have been the Penguins’ selection at No. 24 have made NHL debuts, and none have yet stuck around for more than nine games.

The Penguins’ first pick was Tristan Broz, at No. 58. Broz made his professional debut in April after three seasons of college hockey. Broz played in both of the WBS Penguins playoff games after winning the National Championship with Denver.

The jury is out on the draft class, but defenseman J.J. Moser was selected two picks later and has played 205 NHL games.

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Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
4 days ago

If only Katz were here to remind us that the Brassard trade was bad.

Ujn Hunter
Ujn Hunter
4 days ago

Brassard trade was good… Brassard was bad.

Brad
Brad
4 days ago

What about taking kapenan when pastranak was still available

Aaron
Aaron
4 days ago

At least 4 of the last 7 drafts have been absolutely abysmal.. No prospects and an aging core is a recipe for disaster, but this has been a glaring problem since 2018.

Last edited 4 days ago by Aaron
Ujn Hunter
Ujn Hunter
4 days ago

I mean… sure… the Penguins could have picked Adam Fox and been just like Carolina… no Fox. He was going to the NYR no matter what… so…?