The Pittsburgh Penguins head into the 2014 NHL Draft under new management. Jim Rutherford, who retired from the Carolina Hurricanes general manager position in late April, was hired in early June to take the same job in Pittsburgh. Head coach Dan Bylsma was fired the same day Rutherford was hired, and while the Penguins have yet to find a replacement, Rutherford is optimistic a head coach will be in place by the start of free agency on July 1st.
Rutherford is expected to manage more by committee than former GM Ray Shero, and will rely heavily on associate GM Jason Botterill, assistant GMs Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin, as well as vice president of hockey operations Jason Karmanos.
Another change will be the increased use of hockey analytics, which Karmanos is expected to integrate into the organization's daily hockey operations.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Derrick Pouliot, D
2. Beau Bennett, RW
3. Brian Dumoulin, D
4. Scott Harrington, D
5. Tristan Jarry, G
6. Matt Murray, G
7. Josh Archibald, LW
8. Oskar Sundqvist, C/W
9. Jayson Megna, RW/LW
10. Teddy Blueger, C/W
If the Penguins lack of forward was not evident during the 2013-14 regular season, it surely was during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where only three forwards – Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Sutter, and Evgeni Malkin – provided consistent offensive production. Management will be limited in what they can do in free agency because of salary cap constraints, although Rutherford has already said he will explore trade possibilities.
The Penguins will also need to change their powerplay and penalty kill, whether it is through new personnel or a different philosophical approach. The powerplay, which finished tied for first in the regular season, was inconsistent in the postseason and a liability to give up shorthanded goals. The penalty killing unit was just as bad in the postseason, particularly at home, where the Penguins allowed seven powerplay goals in 25 shorthanded situations.
Even without a decree from ownership, it was also evident throughout the regular season and playoffs that the Penguins needed more youth, skill, and grit throughout their lineup. Some of the problem will take care of itself, as there are several young defensemen ready to take over for departing veterans, but it remains a long term roster need.
The Penguins have a handful of young, fast skaters at forward and defense, many who are close to contributing at the NHL level. The defensive well is particularly deep, with Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, and Philip Samuelsson ready to compete for roster spots out of training camp. Offensive defenseman Derrick Pouliot could also see time in the NHL next year, though he is currently recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.
Forwards Adam Payerl and Dominik Uher could be ready for bottom-six roles in the NHL. Neither have particularly high upside, but they would bring a level of grit and physicality that was at times absent in the Penguins NHL lineup last season.
The Penguins have several promising goaltending prospects, namely Tristan Jarry, but they are all raw and inexperienced.
Years of mostly selecting defensemen early in the draft has left the Penguins with a dearth of talent in their forward ranks. Most of the forwards in the prospect pool are also on the smaller side, and while several of them were productive offensively at lower levels, the majority do not project to be offensively dynamic players in the NHL. The ones who do have some experience at the professional level either have consistency issues, injury problems, or limited upside.
Beau Bennett, the most dynamic forward in the prospect pool, remains a question moving forward as he has suffered multiple hand and wrist injuries and recently went under the knife again.
Jayson Megna has the speed to play in the NHL, but he was prone to turnovers and lacked consistency at both ends of the ice.
The rest of the Penguins forward depth chart at the professional level is fairly inexperienced. Bryan Rust, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Matia Marcantuoni, Scott Wilson, and Josh Archibald, will all be entering the first year of professional hockey, and none are expected to be able to contribute to the NHL right away.
Under Shero, the Penguins had clear draft tendencies, whether they were ever openly acknowledged or not. They would normally select mobile, puck-moving defensemen in the earlier rounds of the draft and fast, undersized college-bound forwards in the later rounds.
The Penguins 2014 draft class promises to look a little bit different, at least in the early rounds, as Rutherford has said he plans to target a forward for the first round of the draft. Beyond that, the draft class may be a similar collection of prospects who are on long term developmental paths, if for no other reason than the fact the Penguins lack picks in the second and third rounds.
Pittsburgh owns picks 22, 113, 145, 173, and 203 in the 2014 NHL Draft. They traded their second round pick to the San Jose Sharks in 2013 for defenseman Douglas Murray. Their third round pick was sent to Calgary in exchange for Lee Stempniak. They Penguins also sent their fifth round pick (143rd overall), as well as third rounder in 2015, to the Florida Panthers for the services of Marcel Goc. They did however pickup an additional fifth round pick when they traded defenseman Ben Lovejoy to the Anaheim Ducks in 2013.
Hockey's Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
22. Adrian Kempe, C/LW, MODO (SHL)
Adrian Kempe is a fast, physical forward who spent the 2013-14 season playing against men in Sweden. He is active in all three zones of the ice and plays with a mean streak that is difficult to teach. Kempe seems to play his most effective hockey in high traffic, high contact areas of the ice and can be quite vicious competing for pucks around the net.
There are some questions over Kempe's offensive upside. He played mostly on the third or fourth line for MODO and was relied on more to push the pace on the forecheck than to be a regular offensive contributor. His skating is top-notch however, and combined with a hard shot and a willingness to drive towards the net, he has the potential to be a promising complementary forward. His skill package would be particularly appealing to a Penguins team that is trying to emphasize speed, grit, and puck possession.
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