The Pittsburgh Penguins, led by Ray Shero, followed the same draft strategy that has largely led them for the seven years that Shero has been the general manager of the team. They invested heavily in North American players attending college and will see in a few years the progress that the 18 year olds they draft this week made.
The best way to describe it might be an analogy to planting seeds that won’t come to harvest for four years. It’s a slow process. There will be watering (like summer prospect camps and other organizational instruction) but mostly it’s up to the players as to how they develop physically and mentally on and off the ice. The odds to go from draftee to NHL regular are pretty long, especially in latter rounds, but plant enough seeds and maybe something will grow.
The NHL draft is a patient process as it is- for every Sidney Crosby or Jordan Staal that can hop right into the NHL lineup, there are hundreds of teenagers that needs years and years of development before they’re ready to make it. They come from corners of the world near and far and unlike the NFL, as fans we have seen almost nothing of these players, if we’ve even heard their names. It’s difficult to show a lot of interest in a process that won’t pay off for years, and the Penguins take an even more patient approach than that.
Pittsburgh’s strategy to take mostly collegiate bound players buys them more time. Rules state NHL teams can hold the rights to those players until after graduation, giving them four years to watch these players grow and see which ones are panning out as professional prospects. Players chosen from European or Canadian Junior routes have to have decisions made on their NHL futures by teams after just two years, which obviously gives about half the time from the general college drafted player. An advanced collegiate player, like Pens 2010 first rounder Beau Bennett, can always chose to leave college early and sign an NHL deal, which is another advantage.
The Pens 2013 draft will be remembered for what Tristan Jarry does. Pittsburgh, from the Jarome Iginla and Douglas Murray trades, didn’t have picks in the top two rounds of the draft. This changed when they dealt forward Tyler Kennedy to San Jose for the 50th overall (2nd round) pick. Then, when Columbus got to pick 44th, Shero made a call and got that pick from them, flipping that 50th overall pick and a 3rd round pick to move up. The Pens had identified who they wanted and it was Edmonton Oil King goalie Tristan Jarry.
Goaltenders are the toughest position to predict future performance from. As such, it’s the riskiest. Jarry was the second goalie selected, and was highly regarded. Despite being a backup for his WHL team, he has a lot of skill, ability and is thought to be a potential NHL starting goalile. One day. Far in the future.
But, with Jarry adding to 2013 Hobey Baker finalist Eric Hartzell, there’s no doubt that the Penguins have very much upgraded their prospect pool at the goaltender position. While Marc-Andre Fleury and his struggles have been documented everywhere, these moves aren’t indicative that Fleury’s time in Pittsburgh is near the end. Especially for goaltenders, an NHL team just has to acquire as many as possible and eventually see what becomes of them. While it’s probably no coincidence the Penguins have been focusing lately more on goaltending- it’s been a need they could long avoid with Fleury in his early 20’s, but now acquiring more prospects is a priority.
Friend of Pensburgh Brian Metzer has a great draft recap of the specific picks here, and it’s recommend reading to catch up on the guys brought into the fold.
Or guys who could be in the fold one day. The biggest takeaway was trading Kennedy for a bluechip goalie prospect, but the Penguins also planted some seeds that may or may not be able to harvest into pro players years in the future. For that, we’ll have to wait and see.