Following a disappointing exit in the third round of the NHL playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins head into the 2013 NHL Draft as a team in need of minor roster re-tooling. The franchise traded their first, second, and fifth round picks in order to acquire rental players Jarome Iginla, Doug Murray, and Brendan Morrow, and consequentially will not have a selection until the third round.
There is however a good possibility the Penguins could move a high profile player to move up in the draft, as they did in 2012 when they traded Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for a package that included the eighth overall pick of the draft, which was used to select Derrick Pouliot.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Derrick Pouliot, D
2. Simon Despres, D
3. Beau Bennett, RW/LW
4. Olli Maatta, D
5. Brian Dumoulin, D
6. Scott Harrington, D
7. Robert Bortuzzo, D
8. Teddy Blueger, C/W
9. Josh Archibald, LW
10. Oskar Sundqvist, C/W
The Penguins need to figure out their goaltending for the long-term, because while Marc-Andre Fleury is a very good goaltender in the regular season, he has been mediocre in the playoffs. Backup Tomas Vokoun was stellar in the playoffs, but is going to turn 37 in July and is in the twilight of his career. The Penguins have goaltending prospect Eric Hartzell, as well as some other, younger netminders in the pipeline, but it could be several years before any of them prove if they are starting caliber goalies in the NHL.
Outside of solidifying their goaltending for the next few years, the biggest need for Pittsburgh is to figure out which of their many players headed into free agency they should sign. Leading the group of pending free agents are deadline acquisitions Iginla, Morrow, and Murray. In addition to them, the team will have to make decisions on longtime veterans such as Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, and Craig Adams. They will also have to decide whether or not they will re-sign Tyler Kennedy, Dustin Jeffrey, and Robert Bortuzo, all of whom will be restricted free agents. The team will have about 8 million dollars in roster space with 17 players under contract who are locks to play on the NHL roster next year. So there will be space to sign some of the players, but not all of them.
Beyond figuring out their roster for the 2013-14 season, the Penguins must change the culture of their locker room. It is a tightly knit group of players and while they have no off-ice problems, the group, as they are currently made up, is not capable of dealing with adversity. When faced with new difficulties, the team has been either unable or unwilling to adjust.
The Penguins as an organization pride themselves on developing players who are smart and hard to play against. Whether they do it through the draft, free agency, or trade, General Manager Ray Shero and his staff are good at finding players who fit in well with the organization.
The organization has been particularly good at developing defenseman of all size and variety, and not just in the early rounds where picks are expected to pan out, but also in the mid-to-later rounds. As a result, the prospect pipeline is clogged with defensive talent, allowing management to not only provide a steady stream of affordable young blueliners for their NHL squad, but also providing them the assets to trade for other needs.
The Penguins are also adept at developing forwards, Beau Bennett the highest profile of the group, though the organization does not have the depth at forward that they do along the blue line. There are however several forwards, namely Anton Zlobin, Scott Wilson, Josh Archibald, and Teddy Blueger, who show promise as potential top-nine NHL players.
Finally, while it might not be a strength per se, the Penguins front office has done a good job of moving prospects who have fallen out of favor within the organization. They did it twice in 2013, when they traded Eric Tangradi to the Winnipeg Jets and Patrick Killeen to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
While the Penguins do have some forward prospects who show promise, none outside of Bennett will be ready to make a regular contribution in the NHL in 2013-14.
Furthermore, the Penguins coaching staff at the NHL level seems remiss to play their young players in prominent situations, often scratching them in favor of lesser skilled veterans.
The Penguins also need to improve their goaltending depth. They took a step in that direction last year when they drafted Matt Murray and Sean Maguire, and improved their depth at the professional level this year by signing Hartzell, a former Hobey Baker nominee. More still needs to be done however to assure it is not an area of weakness moving forward.
The Penguins have a tendency to select defensemen in the first and second rounds of the draft, forwards in the middle rounds, and a mix of low-risk grinders and project players in the later rounds. Of the eight first and second round picks they have had since 2009, six were used to select defensemen, all but one of whom (Philip Samuelsson) was drafted out of Canadian major juniors.
The organization prefers drafting collegiate players in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, as NHL teams are able to retain the rights of players with amateur status for two years longer than those playing in junior or most European nations. This is particularly beneficial for prospects who are considered projects at the time of their selection, as a team can allow them to develop at a pace that better suits their individual needs.
The Penguins hold the 77th, 89th, 119th, 179th, 194th, and 209th picks in the 2013 NHL Draft.
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