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Pittsburgh Penguins Drafting Results: Forwards

Are the Penguins doing a good job at developing forwards that they've drafted? There's been some hits (Beau Bennett) and some misses along the way under GM Ray Shero.

Bruce Bennett

Are the Pittsburgh Penguins good or bad under Ray Shero at drafting forwards?

In a way, it’s a loaded question, because it flies in the face of the situation the organization is in. As a contending team with a core of young forward stars in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, the Pens don’t need to draft forwards in the first round every year. Frequently they end up trading the future pick to acquire a veteran NHL player who may help them advance to the Stanley Cup. To fill the gaps, they often try to sign college FA’s like Paul Thompson and Brian Gibbons to see if they can develop into NHL-level players.

Pittsburgh is not afraid to sign free agent lower line players that brought in guys like Matt Cooke, Mike Rupp, Arron Asham in order to fill out the NHL roster. The organization isn’t built upon developing NHL players out of what they draft, but rather to use the draft to stock up on valuable assets that can be parlayed into immediate, surefire help. After all, prospects don’t always pan out, which is why they’re called “prospects” in the first place.

Still, seven years into his reign at the wheel of the Pens, let’s take a quick peak at Shero and his scouting team’s scorecard when it comes to drafting, and the subsequent development, of the forwards they’ve selected.

2006 draft Player (Selection) Comments
Jordan Staal 1st round (2nd overall) You could nit-pick and say the Pens COULD have drafted Jonathan Toews, but Staal’s 29 goal NHL rookie year at age 18 (when Toews was staying in college) helped propel the Pens back to being a playoff team in 2007. And Staal’s short-handed goal in Game 4 vs Detroit tipped a Stanley Cup final. Throw in six solid years of two-way play to that Cup and the Staal pick was an unqualified success.
2007 draft Player (Selection) Comments
Angelo Esposito 1st round (20th overall) Esposito, once a very promising prospect, was traded less than a year after the Penguins drafted him, and injuries derailed his career. The Pens didn’t develop him into a pro, but they leveraged the asset and traded him at the perfect time before he lost value.
Keven Veilleux 2nd round (51st overall) Veilleux played out three years of his entry level contract as either injured or in the AHL or ECHL. Then he used a racial slur on the ice in 2013, apologized for it, and wasn’t kept in the organization this summer.
Casey Pierro-Zabotel 3rd round (80th overall) Never came close to the NHL, the biggest stir around him was the drama his wife stirred up around the time the Pens cut ties with him. Has been a ECHL/AHL fringe level player.
Luca Caputi 4rd round (111th overall) Had a lot of promise coming through the ranks, and was another player the Pens traded at the right time in 2010 when his value was probably at its highest point. Split 2012-13 in the ECHL and AHL and doesn’t figure to make an NHL splash.
Dustin Jeffrey 6rd round (171st overall) He’s not an NHL regular, but in brief stretches Jeffrey has shown that he belongs in the league. 2013-14 will be the 6th season that Jeffrey will have played for the Penguins.
2008 draft Player (Selection) Comments
Nathan Moon 4th round (120th overall) The Penguins elected not to sign Moon, lost his rights and he spent 2012-13 split between the ECHL and AHL.
2009 draft Player (Selection) Comments
Ben Hanowski 3th round (63rd overall) Traded as part of the Jarome Iginla deal. Hanowski turned pro and played five games for Calgary at the end of the 2013 season. Still too soon to know if he’ll be an NHL regular, but he served his purpose to the Penguins organization in the trade.
Nick Petersen 4th round (121st overall) Spent two years in the Pittsburgh organization (2010-12) splitting time between the AHL and ECHL, left the organization. Played 2013 in the AHL and ECHL.
Andy Bathgate 5th round (151st overall) Only played 2 pro games on a PTO with Wilkes-Barre in 2011 in his whole career, recently signed with a team in France.
2010 draft Player (Selection) Comments
Beau Bennett 1st round (20th overall) Has developed into an NHL player in his first year as a professional. Invited to Team USA Olympic camp. Should be an impactful NHL player for years to come.
Bryan Rust 3rd round (80th overall) Book is still open on Rust, who starts his senior season at Notre Dame this fall. Is said to have 3rd/4th line NHL potential, should he make at that far, but it still remains unknown if the Pens will sign him and retain his rights in the next year.
Tom Kuhnhackl 4th round (110th overall) Injury filled first professional year in 2012-13, but at age 21 and figures to be a regular in Wilkes-Barre for next year, Kuhnhackl still holds promise.
Ken Agostino 4th round (110th overall) Traded as part of the Jarome Iginla deal, remains to be seen if Agostino makes it in the NHL, but he served his purpose to the Pens as part of a trade.
2011 draft Player (Selection) Comments
Dominik Uher 5th round (144th overall) At age 19/20 last year had his first professional season spent mostly in WB/S. Figures to get a boost on depth chart for 2013-14, his performance this coming season will go a long way in determining his future with the organization.
Josh Archibald 6th round (174th overall) A vet of some Team USA teams and from taking his freshman to sophomore point mark from 15 to 36, Archibald’s stock is high as he enters his junior year at Nebraska-Omaha.
Scott Wilson 7th round (209th overall) Entering his junior season at UMass-Lowell, also seen as a possible pro prospect, but again the jury is still very far out on if he could ever be an NHL caliber player.
2012 draft Player (Selection) Comments
Teddy Blueger 2nd round (52nd overall) Entering his sophomore season in college, he’s a talented player but still has a lot of growing to do on the ice and in the weight room before he can think about turning pro.
Oscar Sundqvist 3rd round (81st overall) Staying in Sweden again this year, he’s got some size and grit but it’s still unknown if he’ll come to North America for a season
Matia Marcantuoni 4th round (92nd overall) Swift skating youngster again lost time to injury and wasn’t that impressive (25 points in 64 games) in the games he did play in. Big year for him to stay healthy and show he can produce in junior to earn a pro contract from the Pens.
Anton Zlobin 6th round (173th overall) Second year in a row he’s put up great offensive numbers in a very offensive minded QMJHL. Thought to be a boom or bust scoring line winger prospect, so it remains to be seen if he can be effective playing against tougher competition in the pro ranks, starting in 2013-14.
2013 draft Player (Selection) Comments
Jake Guentzel 3rd round (77th overall) About to start his freshman year of college at Nebraska-Omaha and is worlds away. He was the USHL rookie of the year last year, but that’s a long way from the NHL.
Blaine Byron 6th round (179th overall) Going to Maine this season to start his college career, is said to have a high skill level, but obviously is going to have to keep showing it and growing it in the future.
Troy Josephs 7th round (209th overall) Going to Clarkson this fall as a freshman.

So, if you’re keeping track at home we have:

  • NHL caliber players (3): Staal, Jeffrey, Bennett
  • Assets used for trade to acquire NHL level talent (4): Esposito, Caputi, Hanowski, Agostino
  • Prospect playing pro in minor leagues of Pens organization (2): Kuhnhackl, Uher
  • Prospect to debut in minor leagues of Pens organization (1): Zlobin
  • Too early to tell, player still in juniors/college/Europe (9): Rust, Archibald, Wilson, Blueger, Sundqvist, Marcantuoni, Guentzel, Byron, Josephs
  • Bust (5): Veilleux, Pierro-Zabotel, Moon, Bathgate, Petersen

But another key figure isn’t just how many total forwards the Penguins have developed, but also where they made these selections:

  • First round: 3 (Staal, Esposito, Bennett)
  • Second round: 2 (Veilleux, Blueger)
  • Third round: 5 (Pierro-Zabotel, Hanowski, Rust, Sundqvist, Guentzel)
  • Fourth round: 5 (Caputi, Moon, Petersen, Kuhnhackl, Marcantuoni)
  • Fifth round: 3 (Bathgate, Agostino, Uher)
  • Six round: 4 (Jeffrey, Archibald, Zlobin, Byron)
  • Seventh round: 2 (Wilson, Josephs)

The verdict? The Penguins haven’t dedicated a lot of their quality resources to drafting forwards. In the first round they tend to draft defensemen or trade the pick. But, in the two cases in seven years that they did take and keep a forward it resulted in drafting/developing NHL caliber forwards in Jordan Staal and Beau Bennett. Pittsburgh is fortunate to still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neall all in their 20’s and all locked into contracts for years to come, they’re in a position where they don’t need to draft forwards in the first round every year. Beyond that, the Pens have shown a willingness to trade for NHL quality forwards (like Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis) that fit their system as immediate contributors.

The Penguins have dedicated the majority of their mid-round draft picks in the 3rd and 4th rounds to drafting forwards. Obviously these players aren’t as refined or skilled as players usually found in the first two rounds, but as yet Pittsburgh hasn’t had any success in developing these mid-round forwards into anything of NHL value, save the trade of Ben Hanowski as part of the Jarome Iginla trade. As an organization that’s close to the salary cap with expensive veteran contracts, it would be a big benefit if the Penguins could turn one or more of these future players into NHL contributors on entry-level contracts.

Unfortunately, there’s not much hope of that happening any time soon, given the positions on the depth chart all of those players are, and the Penguins long-term strategy of drafting mostly collegiate players, usually means a four year wait to see if any payoff. The Penguins aren’t doing bad since Ray Shero took over- they’ve developed or traded seven forwards to only five sure-fire busts with a lot of irons still in the fure. But they haven’t been able to quickly develop dirt-cheap young talent like the Chicago Blackhawks did with Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger to win the 2013 Stanley Cup. If Pittsburgh can draft and develop a few more forwards like that to go along with Crosby and Malkin (as we’re seeing with Beau Bennett) the results could be championship-tastic.