The Pittsburgh Penguins have not experienced a great deal of success at the NHL draft in recent years. The team has frequently traded away their first and second round picks and have failed to find much in the way of talent in the later rounds. That lack of organizational depth came to a head in the 2014-15 season, as the team sputtered offensively down the stretch and did not have the talent in the middle and bottom of their lineup to do any damage in the playoffs.
The future does not look particularly bright either. Pending a trade, the Penguins will go into the 2015 NHL Draft with the fewest picks they have had since 2008. General Manager Jim Rutherford has been vocal in his desire to acquire a first round pick, and while it is possible he will trade for one, the Penguins GM has to be cautious to not trade away too many of the team’s already dwindling assets.
Rutherford will try to make some trades at the draft table, whether to acquire picks, or players who can complement the roster right away. The Penguins GM seems particularly keen on adding several top-six wingers to the roster—though adding players of that caliber is often easier said than done.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Derrick Pouliot, D
2. Scott Harrington, D
3. Oskar Sundqvist, C/W
4. Kasperi Kapanen, RW
5. Matt Murray, G
6. Brian Dumoulin, D
7. Teddy Blueger, C/W
8. Tristan Jarry, G
9. Scott Wilson, LW
10. Jean-Sebastien Dea, C
The Penguins have needs at every position except for goaltender, where they are set at the NHL level with Marc-Andre Fleury, and well into the future with two high-end goaltending prospects in Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry. At forward, the organization has two of the best centers in all of hockey in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but there are plenty of questions past those two. Brandon Sutter has been very productive for a third-line center, but his possession numbers imply the puck is often heading in the wrong direction when he is on the ice—an issue that is amplified by lackluster linemates and tough matchups. The Penguins also lack talent along the wings, with Patric Hornqvist and David Perron the only true top-six wingers on the roster.
Penguins management needs to inject some youth into their forward group. They have relied on overpaid veterans to fill out their bottom-six, which has led to a host of salary cap-related issues over the past couple seasons.
There is some concern on defense too. Veteran defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin are leaving via free agency and will be replaced with prospects Brian Dumoulin and Derrick Pouliot. The group will feature two very talented defensemen in Olli Maatta and Kris Letang, but neither was able to stay healthy last year and there is a significant drop-off in either talent or experience past those two.
The Penguins have several young players who are either close or ready to make an impact at the NHL level. Defensemen Dumoulin and Pouliot are likely going to start the 2015-16 season in the NHL, with Scott Harrington not far off. Forward Scott Wilson showed he was capable of handling NHL duties last season, and along with Oskar Sundqvist and Kasperi Kapanen, is expected to compete for a spot on the team’s opening day roster.
There is a fair amount of depth at up front, though most of the forward prospects in the system project as middle or bottom of the lineup players and are not the types of forwards who would complement the Pittsburgh’s skilled center duo.
The greatest strength of the Penguins organization is probably in net, where they have two high-end goalie prospects in Jarry and Murray. It would not be surprising to see one moved this offseason in order to address an area of greater need.
The Penguins defensive prospect pool, which at one point boasted four former first-round picks and three second-round picks, has taken a lot of hits via graduation and trade over the years, and that depth has not been replaced. There are still a few good players such as Pouliot and Dumoulin, but the drop-off is substantial after that and will be even more so when those players graduate in the near future.
There is a lot of depth at forward, but none of the players really look like top-six forwards outside of Kasperi Kapanen. While it is important to fill out the bottom of their roster with affordable young talent, the Penguins have yet to draft and develop a top-six winger since they picked outside of the draft lottery in 2007.
The 2015 Draft looks like it will be more of the same for the organization, as they have only one pick in the first three rounds. Rutherford traded the team’s first and fourth round picks, the first going to Edmonton in the David Perron trade and the fourth to Toronto as part of the trade that netted forward Daniel Winnik. Former Penguins GM Ray Shero traded their third round pick back in 2014 to the Florida Panthers for center Marcel Goc. As a result, the organization enters the draft with four picks—the 46th, 137th, 167th, and 197th.
While adding skill is the most immediate need for the organization, they also need to replenish their defensive depth. With that in mind, Rutherford and the Penguins management team will likely select the best player available when it is their turn at the draft board, with an emphasis on adding talent up front.
The organization has shown a preference for collegiate players in the later rounds of the draft. The main reason being that teams have a four-year window to sign players with amateur status rather than the two-year window with players selected out of juniors and some European countries. That being said, the Penguins have scouted Europe much more heavily under Rutherford, so it would not be surprising if they selected at least one European player, if not more.
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