Pittsburgh Penguins' Best and Worst Picks in Each of the Last 10 NHL Drafts

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IIJuly 30, 2014

Pittsburgh Penguins' Best and Worst Picks in Each of the Last 10 NHL Drafts

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    Teams that don't draft well don't win the Stanley Cup. There's no way around that in today's NHL, where the salary cap prevents teams from loading up on established veterans by trading away draft picks for years on end.

    Yes, we're looking at you, pre-2005 Detroit Red Wings.

    Ten years ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins were in dire straits, and relocation loomed as a real possibility. Mario Lemieux stepped in and helped settle the team down financially, while high picks in 2004 and 2005 allowed the franchise to select Evgeni Malkin ('04) and Sidney Crosby ('05).

    Dating back to the 2005 draft, the Penguins have selected 62 players. Some of those guys are obviously better than others, but we were curious: If you break things down year by year, who would be remembered as the best pick from that class, and who would be remembered as the worst?

    The closer we get to 2014, the more potential comes into play and the less we know for sure, but it's a fun offseason exercise.

    Worth keeping in mind: The "What Could Have Been" section is there for reflection. It's always easy to look back and say, "You should have taken player X instead of Y," but it does illustrate how badly Pittsburgh struggled under Ray Shero when it came to picking players late in the first round.


    All draft data and stats appear courtesy of HockeyDB.com.

2005 Entry Draft in Ottawa, Ontario

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    Best Selection

    Even the most committed Sidney Crosby hater can't come up with an argument against him being the top pick for the Penguins in 2005. Not only is he among the best offensive players in the game today, there's a chance that he'd be elected to the Hall of Fame if he simply decided to hang up the skates and not return for 2014-15.

    Getting a franchise cornerstone is always the goal with a first-overall selection; in Crosby, the Penguins landed the new face of the NHL.


    Worst Selection

    Selecting a player of Crosby's ilk makes the entire draft a home run (and finding Kris Letang in the third round is a big bonus), but the worst pick the team made in '05 was Michael Gergen. He was the team's second-round selection (61st overall), but never made it to the AHL level, let alone the NHL.

    He played a handful of games in the ECHL for three teams and last played professional hockey in 2011-12.


    What Could Have Been

    Gergen was the last pick of the second round and Letang was the first pick of the third. Eleven picks after the Penguins selected Gergen, the L.A. Kings snagged Jonathan Quick. The Penguins already had young goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the fold, but landing a player like Quick in the third round would have given the Penguins one of the best drafts in recent memory.

    Crosby-Letang-Quick would be a ridiculous haul for three drafts, let alone one.

2006 Entry Draft in Vancouver, British Columbia

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    Best Selection

    Selecting Crosby in 2005 wasn't enough to get the Penguins out of the draft lottery a year later. After selecting first in 2003 and 2005 and second-overall in 2004, Pittsburgh had another second-overall selection in 2006.

    After the St. Louis Blues picked Erik Johnson with the top pick, the Penguins decided to go with Jordan Staal. While he's no longer with the organization, he was an integral part of the squad that won the Stanley Cup in 2009, making him the top pick for the franchise in 2006 quite easily.


    Worst Selection

    Continuing the first-round knock out/second-round bomb out trend, the Penguins picked Carl Sneep with the second pick in the second round (32nd overall). The towering defenseman played through four years with Boston College before playing parts of two seasons in the AHL for the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins.

    In 2012-13 Sneep ended up with the Wheeling Nailers in the ECHL until January of 2013, when the Dallas Stars traded for the defender. He then played in 25 games with the Texas Stars in the A, but laced up his skates in the ECHL once again last year, this time for the Idaho Steelheads.


    What Could Have Been

    The Chicago Blackhawks selected a kid named Jonathan Toews with the third-overall pick. Staal was a great selection, but adding Toews to a core that already included Malkin and Crosby would have dramatically changed the landscape for the Penguins.

    It's hard to imagine Toews in a Pittsburgh sweater, but it was just one pick away from happening.

2007 Entry Draft in Columbus, Ohio

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    Best Selection

    The 2007 draft was a brutal showing for the Penguins. After drafting quite well from 2003 through 2006, Pittsburgh whiffed on its first- and second- round selections in '07. However, they did find Robert Bortuzzo in round three with the 78th-overall pick.

    It took the 6'4", 215-pound defenseman some time to work up to the NHL, but he now has 75 NHL games under his belt and will be in the mix for a top-six role in Steel City this season.


    Worst Selection

    On paper Angelo Esposito looked like a great pickup with the 20th-overall selection. The bloodlines were there and he'd played well in the QMJHL with 79 points in 60 games in his draft year.

    As a rookie in the Q, Esposito had compiled 98 points, so he showed a lot of promise. But teams shied away because of the decline in points between his rookie and sophomore years.

    That potential never evolved into much at the NHL level, and he's spent the last three seasons playing in Italy, Finland and Austria. Certainly not a bad way to make a living, but not what the Penguins envisioned back in '07.

    One major footnote for Esposito: He was one of the three players that Pittsburgh shipped to the (then) Atlanta Thrashers for Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis. The former ended up bailing on the Penguins to head to Detroit as a free agent, but Dupuis has been a top-line forward for the Penguins since.

    Letting Jake Muzzin walk was a bit of an oversight as well. He's been outstanding for the Kings over the last two seasons.


    What Could Have Been

    Two picks after the Penguins selected Esposito, the Montreal Canadiens cashed in by adding Max Pacioretty. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but the Penguins could have had a dynamic top line with Crosby lining up with Pacioretty and Chris Kunitz.

2008 Entry Draft in Ottawa, Ontario

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    Best Selection

    If you're looking to trace Pittsburgh's current problem with depth back to a particular string of drafts, look no further than the 2007-2008 combo. Out of the 11 players the team took across those two drafts, only Muzzin has carved out a permanent NHL role.

    And he did so in Los Angeles. Going zero-for-11 is a rough patch to say the least, and it's partially to blame for the lack of another Stanley Cup banner in Pittsburgh.

    To be frank, the Penguins didn't really have a best pick in 2008. Not selecting until the fourth round doesn't help, but of the four players they took, only fifth-round pick Alexander Pechurskiy has played in an NHL game—and he has literally played in one contest.


    Worst Selection

    Nathan Moon was the highest player taken by the Penguins, going 120th-overall. He never played an NHL game but spent the 2013-14 campaign with the Evansville Icemen in the ECHL, compiling 45 points in 51 games.


    What Could Have Been

    Looking at the '08 draft by itself, it's easy to bash it from Pittsburgh's standpoint. Shero moved a handful of these selections to take a run at the Stanley Cup though, and the team would eventually win it in 2009 after making it to the Final in 2008.

    That's the cost of renting players and "Cupping up."

    Of course the Columbus Blue Jackets dug up Cam Atkinson in the sixth round, and the Red Wings found Gustav Nyquist in the fourth. There were good players to be had, but that late into the draft it's more or less a crapshoot.

2009 Entry Draft in Montreal, Quebec

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    Best Selection

    A few years removed from their last lotto appearance, the Penguins continued to struggle at the draft as they picked later and later. In 2009 they had the 30th-overall selection and used it to add Simon Despres—a smart, two-way defenseman who appeared to be a good value late in the first round.

    At 23-years-old, Despres is entering the make-it-or-break-it stage of his NHL career as he's been passed by several younger players on the depth chart already.

    He could still pan out as a top-six defenseman in the NHL, but he's yet to seize a job in Pittsburgh while players like Bortuzzo earn playing time.


    Worst Selection

    The Penguins continued to load up on the blue line, drafting Philip Samuelsson in the second round. The '09 draft has had a few late-round surprises, but not many. As such, it's hard to knock the Penguins when most of the league struggled to find NHL-caliber players outside of the top-40 picks.

    There's still a chance that Samuelsson makes an impact at the pro level, but the Penguins have a lot of prospect depth on the backend and (like Despres) he's been surpassed by some younger prospects on the depth chart.


    What Could Have Been

    Three selections after the Penguins drafted Despres, the Colorado Avalanche snagged Ryan O'Reilly with the third pick in the second round. He's evolved into a top-six center and is an underrated possession player to boot.

    Odds are good that the Penguins wouldn't be looking for a high-end No. 3 center had they drafted O'Reilly with the last pick in Round 1.

2010 Entry Draft in Los Angeles, California

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    Best Selection

    We all have prospect crushes. It's part of the business. I am admittedly high on Beau Bennett and still think he'll evolve into a top-line player as Kunitz and Dupuis continue to age. Someone has to step in and play with No. 87, and it might as well be the sniper who Pittsburgh drafted 20th overall in 2010.

    Bennett has been plagued by injuries throughout his career to this point, and while that's a red flag, it doesn't mean that he'll never make an impact in the NHL. He seemed poised for a breakout campaign last year but was again derailed by an injury.

    He returned in time for the playoffs but by that point was already too out of sync to help the Penguins. Keep an eye on Bennett in 2014-15, though. This could be his year.


    Worst Selection

    Because of his injury history, some Penguins fans may actually name Bennett here. There was a handful of solid names that Pittsburgh left on the board by selecting Bennett at 20, but few players taken outside of the top two rounds in 2010 have made it to the NHL yet.

    Bryan Rust was the team's third-round pick in 2010 and is just finishing up his career at Notre Dome. He made his professional debut in 2013-14 and will join the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins this year to try and make an impact as a 22-year-old prospect.

    He still has plenty of time to pan out, so slotting him as the "worst" selection might be a bit preemptive.


    What Could Have Been

    Out of the 10 players that were selected in the first round after Bennett, all but one of them has secured a job in the NHL. Charlie Coyle, Emerson Etem, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Quinton Howden are all on the verge of becoming important players for their teams while Bennett is just trying to stay healthy.

    Regardless of who ends up with better numbers out of Coyle, Etem and Bennett, odds are good that the Penguins wish they would have grabbed Kuznetsov. They passed for the same reason everyone else did—the Russian factor—but he finally made it to the NHL last season and didn't look out of place.

    Mark him down as another high-end No. 3 center that Pittsburgh missed out on.

2011 Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minnesota

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    Best Selection

    We're officially in "too early to tell for sure" territory here. Players selected early on in the 2011 draft have made an impact, but some of the later selections are still working their way up the ladder. Only 10 players from the '11 draft have appeared in 100 games or more, and Pittsburgh's top pick from the first round (Joe Morrow) hasn't made it to the NHL yet.

    Scott Harrington was picked with the 54th-overall selection and will be in the mix for a top-six job in Pittsburgh for the 2014-15 season. He probably won't make the NHL club outright, but he'll be among the first call-ups in case of an injury and seems to be on the right track as a pro.


    Worst Selection

    Morrow makes the cut here, if only because he's been traded twice and has yet to really stick with any one franchise. The Penguins traded him for Brendan Morrow in 2013, which is telling of what they thought of the offensive-defenseman.

    Morrow (Joe) didn't do enough to impress the Dallas Stars either, and they decided to ship him to the Boston Bruins in the Tyler Seguin deal. Now he's stuck behind a fleet of high-end young defenders and has a lot of work to do to crack Boston's lineup.


    What Could Have Been

    The Penguins didn't outright miss any potential stars with their first-round pick. The seven players who went after Morrow in the first round haven't done much in the NHL yet, but there are a handful of guys from the second round who are starting to secure professional gigs.

    Ty Rattie, Boone Jenner, John Gibson and Brandon Saad all went in the second, but before Pittsburgh's 54th-overall pick (Harrington). Would the Penguins go back and add one of these players as a first-round pick, though?

    Again, it's easy to look back and say coulda', shoulda', woulda', but Saad, Jenner and Rattie would all fill outstanding organizational needs; both Saad and Jenner would be outstanding third-line centers, while Rattie would have given the Penguins another strong scoring winger to work with.

2012 Entry Draft in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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    Best Selection

    After a ridiculous string of so-so drafting in the first round, the Penguins finally got another one right in 2012 by selecting Olli Maatta with the 22nd-overall pick. Oddly, he wasn't the first player who Pittsburgh drafted in '12, but he's far and away the best prospect the team has had on the blue line since Kris Letang.

    Maatta wasn't expected to make the NHL last year, but an injury to Letang opened the door for a nine-game tryout. The teenager surpassed even the most wild expectations and cemented a spot on Pittsburgh's blue line while making a case for the Calder Trophy.


    Worst Selection

    To reiterate, we're definitely in too early to make the call territory here, but right now it looks like the Penguins might have missed out on some exceptional players by selecting Derrick Pouliot with the eighth-overall pick.

    He's still one of the top prospects in the organization and was outstanding in the WHL last season, but he was one of eight defensemen selected in the top 10 in 2012. Of those eight, five have already made their NHL debuts.

    Again, there's still plenty of time for Pouliot to be a contributing NHLer. It's just the opportunity cost that makes him the "worst" right now.


    What Could Have Been

    Right after the Penguins drafted Pouliot, the Winnipeg Jets took the stage and selected Jacob Trouba. If Pittsburgh's scouting staff were split between those two defensemen, they appear to have gone the wrong way with Pouliot.

    Trouba was in the midst of a Calder-worthy season when a scary injury derailed him last year. Still, there's little question that he's the kind of player a defensive unit can be built around. Can the Penguins say the same about Pouliot?

2013 Entry Draft in Newark, New Jersey

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    Best Selection

    With no first-round selection to work with, the Penguins went for the biggest bang they could at 44th overall. Tristan Jarry was the second goalie taken in the 2013 draft, and while it takes a Ouija board or the work of a seasoned fortune teller to predict the rise and fall of goalies, Pittsburgh seems to have a good egg in the Edmonton Oil Kings product.

    He took on the starting role for the Oil Kings last season and didn't disappoint. It's debatable whether or not he's the top goalie in the system—Matt Murray has improved rapidly over the last year—but there's a lot of promise here for a mid-range second rounder.


    Worst Selection

    We've moved from too early to judge to not even fair to try. Only one player taken outside of the first round has debuted in the NHL, and Kristers Gudlevskis has only played in a single game for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    There's no need to pretend otherwise; no one is quite sure what'll happen with this draft class yet.


    What Could Have Been

    Nothing is certain yet, but the first round in 2013 could end up competing with 2003 in terms of outright depth.

    We might not see a player like Corey Perry evolving from the bottom five picks in the first, but Pittsburgh might eventually regret passing on the chance to select Hunter Shinkaruk, Andre Burakovsky or Shea Theodore.


2014 Entry Draft in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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    Best Selection

    Who's ready for some outright speculation?

    All we have to judge the 2014 draft by is reports from prospect camps, and that's not really the best way to judge anything. Still, Kasperi Kapanen has been downright impressive and has a shot at making the Penguins in 2014-15.

    If he doesn't make the cut, that's perfectly fine, but there's still a lot to like about the value Pittsburgh got by landing Kapanen at No. 22.


    Worst Selection

    It's far too early to tell, and naming a name just to do so seems unfair.


    What Could Have Been

    A second- or third-round pick would have been nice, as 2014 was regarded as a deep draft. The number of high-end game breakers wasn't large, but there should be plenty of NHL regulars leaking into the professional level from this group starting next season.



    Franklin Steele is a Pittsburgh Penguins Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, and also writes for HockeyBuzz.com and FanRag.com. Hit him up on Twitter to agree with everything he wrote here.