The 2011 NHL Draft was a success for the Pittsburgh Penguins. None of the five players the team selected that year have developed into stars, but every single one of them has played in at least one NHL game, and several look like they should have productive NHL careers.
Morrow was a bit of a controversial pick at the time of the draft, as it was expected the Penguins were going to select local product Brandon Saad. Instead, then-GM Ray Shero opted for Morrow, a mobile, puck-moving defenseman from Western Canada.
Morrow made a big impression in the 2011-12 training camp for the Penguins and while he was returned to the WHL, it was expected he would be patrolling the Penguins blue line sooner rather than later. Things changed however. The 2012 NHL Lockout robbed Morrow of a chance to compete for an NHL roster spot in training camp the following year and he was eventually traded to the Dallas Stars for veteran forward Brenden Morrow.
Four months after being traded to the Stars, Morrow was traded to the Boston Bruins as part of deal for Tyler Seguin. After playing the 2013-14 season with the Bruins minor league affiliate, Morrow started to see some opportunities in the NHL, and he spent the entire 2015-16 season in the NHL, albeit often as a healthy scratch.
Now 23 years old, Morrow has not lived up to the expectations set for him when he was drafted in 2011, but he nonetheless has developed into a solid, puck-moving defenseman who should develop into an NHL regular in time.
Scott Harrington was considered something of a low-risk pick at the time, as he had the high hockey IQ and physical ability to project out as a safe, defensive defenseman. He was returned to juniors the two years following his draft and saw quite a bit of success, including two OHL championships, two Memorial Cup appearances, and two appearances in the U20 World Junior Championship.
He joined the Penguins AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, full-time in 2013-14 and acclimated to that level of competition fairly quickly. Harrington would get his first NHL recall the following season during a period in which the Penguins were going through a rash of injuries on their defense, and while he showed flashes of promise, he also appeared overmatched at times.
Harrington’s time with the Penguins ended in the 2015 offseason when GM Jim Rutherford sent the young defenseman, along with forward prospect Kasperi Kapanen, veteran Nick Spaling, and several picks, to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for winger Phil Kessel. Harrington played in 15 games for the Maple Leafs in 2015-16 before being sent down to the AHL in late November. He logged 17 games for the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, before suffering an upper-body injury and being shut down for the year. He is expected to be healthy for the start of the 2016-17 season.
It is hard to say what Harrington’s future holds. He should get an opportunity to earn an NHL roster spot next season, which he must take advantage of, or risk being passed by other prospects on the Maple Leafs’ depth chart.
Dominik Uher, C/W, Spokane Chiefs (WHL), 5th round, 144th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games: 2
The Penguins selected Dominik Uher for his potential as a two-way forward. A tough, skilled Czech forward who was playing in the WHL, Uher spent one more year with Spokane before joining the Penguins organization in 2012-13. He has gradually become more acclimated to the pro game and even managed to make two NHL appearances in 2014-15. There was a chance he would have also been called up during the 2015-16 season if not for a shoulder injury in February which required surgery and cut his season short.
Uher will be back for the Penguins in 2016-17, probably to start the season in the AHL, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he was recalled to the NHL if injuries strike. He possesses modest upside but has the speed to compete in the NHL, and if he can keep up mentally, he should carve out a solid depth role.
Josh Archibald, RW, Brainerd High School (Minnesota HS), 6th round, 174th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games: 1
Selected for his offensive abilities at the high school level, where he managed 27 goals and 46 assists in 25 games, Josh Archibald was a long-term project when he was picked, and while he made his one NHL appearance in 2015-16, he has a long way to go before he can solidify a role with the parent club.
The Minnesota native joined the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2011-12, and by his junior year was among the top goal scorers in college hockey. He finished his junior year ranked third in the nation in goal-scoring, with 29 through 37 games. Through 112 college games, Archibald managed 58 goals and 36 assists.
Archibald turned pro in 2013-14, following his junior season with Nebraska-Omaha. He has spent the past two seasons in the AHL, where he has carved out a role as a checking forward. He made his NHL debut on Mar. 5th in a game against Calgary and looked a bit overmatched physically.
Next year will be telling for Archibald. He needs to take the next step in his development and establish himself as a player who can be counted on to contribute at the NHL level if called upon.
Scott Wilson, RW/LW, Georgetown Raiders (OJHL), 7th round, 209th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 25
Of all the players the Penguins selected in the 2011 NHL Draft, Scott Wilson might possess the most promise and upside. Selected as a 19 year old playing in Ontario area Junior A hockey, Wilson joined the University of Massachusetts-Lowell for the 2011-12 season and made an instant impact, posting 38 points through 37 games as a freshman. Wilson posted 38 points in his sophomore season, as well, and helped lead his team to the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.
Wilson turned pro in 2014-15 and made an immediate impact with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, posting 19 goals and 22 assists through 51 games, as well as making his NHL debut. He was even more impactful in 2015-16, where he managed 22 goals and 14 assists in 34 AHL games, which led to a permanent call-up to the NHL.
At the NHL level, Wilson posted five goals and one assist through 24 games and was re-signed to a two-year NHL deal in mid-March. Wilson’s 2015-16 season was cut short, however, as he suffered an undisclosed injury that required surgery, and was shut down for the year. He is expected to be healthy in time for the 2016-17 NHL season, where he will be expected to play a regular role on the Penguins roster.
Wilson has developed into a reliable NHL forward for the Penguins. It might be unrealistic to expect him to maintain the near 20-goal pace he managed in 24 games this past year. On the other hand, Wilson has shown a knack for scoring goals at every level of competition and he has the type of goal-scoring ability that is difficult to teach. He was also an effective possession player during his time in the NHL and showed he was able to play in just about every role Penguins coach Mike Sullivan put him in.
Hockey’s Future looks back at the 2011 NHL Draft of the Pittsburgh Penguins, including video footage of top pick Joe Morrow from the 2011 NHL Combine.
Notable Playoff Performances
The Penguins’ AHL affiliate ultimately lost in the second round of the playoffs, but it was through no fault of Jake Guentzel, who has been extremely impactful during his brief time with the Penguins. Through 10 postseason games, Guentzel managed five goals and nine assists. Guentzel was especially dominant against Providence, where he posted three goals and four assists through three games.
Daniel Sprong was another Penguins prospect with a strong postseason. The Dutch-born forward had a productive playoff run at the junior level with the Charlottetown Islanders, where he managed four goals, 11 assists, and 58 shots through 12 games. Sprong joined the AHL Penguins shortly after the Islanders lost to Shawinigan, and he remained a factor through the much of the Penguins 10 postseason games. He managed three goals in three games versus the Providence Bruins, and potted another two goals and an assist in seven games against the Hershey Bears.
Prospect of the Month
Few players, prospects or otherwise, have been as impactful to the Pittsburgh Penguins over the last month and a half as has Matt Murray. Forced to start for the Penguins because of a concussion to veteran starter Marc-Andre Fleury, Murray has been a difference-maker for the Penguins in their journey to the Stanley Cup Final.
He allowed only four goals in three games during the first round series against the New York Rangers, and he even managed a shutout. He was just as impressive in the second round against the Washington Capitals, who were one of the top offensive teams during the regular season. In six games, he allowed only 14 goals, often seeing over 35 shots, and he even turned aside 47 of 49 in one game. Murray has continued his solid play into the Eastern Conference Finals against a deep and talented Tampa Bay Lightning team, guiding the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final.
Through 12 postseason starts, Murray has allowed 26 goals on 360 shots faced and has managed a .928 save percentage.
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