As we last left off, we reviewed Pittsburgh's 2004 draft, in which they failed to win a lottery they had the best chance to, so the Pens would have to "settle" for Evgeni Malkin. The Pens would also find Tyler Kennedy in the 4th and have another decent prospect in Nick Johnson to round out what still has to be considered "very solid" with it's end result.
Now let's take a look at the 2005 draft. In the summer of 2005 there was a lot of optimism: the NHL and its players came to a new collective bargaining agreement and every market had aspirations under the salary cap to be competitive on the ice and still financially viable off the ice.
But the real prize would be decided in the lottery draft, a week before the draft itself. Due to the cancelled season, the NHL decided that every team would have at least a small shot at the #1 pick and the kid dubbed as "The Next One" since the age of 12, Sidney Crosby. Aside from just the phenom, the rest of the draft was deep and talented too, as 35 of the first 45 players selected have already broken through to the NHL level.
Determining draft odds was basically based off the prior three seasons, unsuccessful teams were rewarded with three lottery balls (Buffalo, Columbus, NY Rangers and Pittsburgh). While these teams had the best chance of winning, it was still just 6.25% odds that they'd get the first pick. Ten teams got two balls in the lottery (4.1% chance on winning it all) and the remaining 16 teams would receive one ball in the mix (2.08% chance of coming out first).
So let's take the jump and see how the Penguins did in this draft
#1 overall, Sidney Crosby (C, Rimouski Oceanic)
Verdict: It goes without saying that the Penguins got the stroke of luck to turn the franchise around by winning the Crosby sweepstakes and getting the first pick. Crosby the savior lived up to his billing, setting the Penguins rookie points record at the tender age of 18 (casting aside some French dude from the '80s), winning the Art Ross and Hart Trophy at age 19, being named captain and taking his team to the Stanley Cup Finals at age 20 and then winning the whole thing at age 21.
It's been a whirlwind four seasons that's seen an exponential curve of growth and success.
Best pick available
61st overall, Michael Gergen (LW, University Minnesota-Duluth)
Verdict: By virtue of getting the #1 pick, the draft snaked order and Pittsburgh didn't get to select until the last pick of the second round (not that they were complaining). They chose to go with Gergen, a speedy winger who went the college route. Gergen never seemed to impress or showcase the talents it takes to jump to the next level and isn't in the organizations plans.
62nd overall, Kris Letang (D, Val d'Or Foreurs)
Verdict: With the next pick the Penguins drafted a smallish defenseman from the QMJHL. The smooth skating Letang went back to Juniors for a season and then impressed enough in training camp 2006 to get a seven game stint in Pittsburgh at the beginning of the 06-07 season. The Pens didn't rush him and again sent him back to the "Q" for the rest of the season where he distingushed himself further there and for Team Canada at the WJC tournament. In 2007-08 Letang served a brief 10 game apprenticeship in the AHL before transitioning full-time to the NHL and becoming a vital part of the Penguins defense.
Best pick available
125th overall, Tommi Leinonen (D, Karpat [Finland])
Verdict: The Pens used their 4th round pick on Leinonen, a nice sized defenseman playing in Finland. Leinonen has never made the jump to North America and probably won't.
126nd overall, Tim Crowder (RW, Michigan State)
Verdict: Played four middling seasons in Lansing, never really appeared on anyone's radar.
Other players picked in the same neighborhood: Darren Helm (132nd overall -DET), Nathan Gerbe (142nd overall - BUF)
194th overall, Jean-Philippe Paquet (D, Baie-Comeau Drakkar)
Verdict: Another late round chance on a defenseman from the Q. Paquet played out his eligibility and didn't sign with PIttsburgh.
Other players picked in the same neighborhood: Sergei Kostitsyn (200th - MTL)
195th overall, Joe Vitale (C/RW, Northeastern)
Verdict: Vitale is actually in the Penguins organization and presumably has the chance to make a player out of himself. He played his four seasons out at Northeastern and joined the Wilkes-Barre Penguins for their stretch run. In five regular season games Vitale registered 2 goals and 2 assists and he appeared in all 12 WB/S playoff games (though he didn't score). Vitale has drawn comparisions with his work ethic and style of play to a Maxime Talbot/Tyler Kennedy. In 2009-10 he'll be back in WB/S and will have the chance to show his game can translate to the professional game as well as the other two.
And that's the 2005 draft. When you break it down, the Penguins 2004 and 2005 drafts were almost mirrors of themselves.
- The Pens were lucky to pick at the top and score a franchise centerman. (Malkin and Crosby)
- They didn't do much with their middle picks but they did draft/develop a key player in their Stanley Cup run (Letang and Kennedy)
- They have one last prospect who played out his college career and has the chance to develop through the AHL into a NHL player (Vitale and Johnson)