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Hindsight, Brandon Saad and the Pittsburgh Penguins

Seeing a local boy done good in another market hurts, but the Pittsburgh Penguins had good reason back in 2011 not to draft Brandon Saad.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ray Shero didn't take Brandon Saad, but you know what, I didn't either.

In the 2011 SB Nation mock draft (which is kinda cool to look back on), Saad didn't go until #30. At #23, when I was picking for the Penguins, I took Rocco Grimaldi. I really wanted Boone Jenner, but he got mock-drafted the pick just before me. I had to move on to Grimaldi, and I justified taking the smaller player specifically over Saad and Nicklas Jensen back then by saying:

Saad and Jensen were the two other players I most strongly considered.

Both have great size (6’2- 6’3 range) and also some good skill and project to be potential NHL power forward caliber..

But both also have some question marks about their drive, and inconsistencies and both need to fill out a lot physically. Saad’s stock has fallen all year long as it seems the more people have seen, the less they’ve liked in his on-ice habits.

I think that’s why Grimaldi stood out- his work ethic is unquestionable, and though he’s 165, he’s very strong and probably won’t be adding all that more weight. He tested well at the combine and already is pretty jacked.

The bold (emphasis added now) is the reason that Saad fell in real life all the way to #43 overall.

Here's another article I wrote prior to the draft specifically about Saad's poor draft season:

"The issue with hype comes accountability, and Saad really dropped off the map as the year went forward," said Jesse Marshall of Faceoff Factor. "To be fair, Saad was battling injury ... but that same drive and work ethic that put him at the top of a lot of lists to start the year kind of came back to bite him in the end. He appeared disengaged a lot towards the end of the year and some people accused him of mailing it in as the season drew to a close."

The bad taste left in Marshall's mouth was shared by all the scouting services. The NHL's official scouting service dropped Saad to No. 8 among North American skaters in their mid-season draft ranking, and Bob McKenzie's survey of NHL scouts also had Saad No. 8 in January.

After his injury at the end of the season, Saad would continue to slide, down to No. 19 among North American skaters. From being ranked in the top four before season considering all prospects, to No. 19 just looking at players from Canada and America, 2010-11 has seen Saad's draft stock drop quite a bit.

Brandon Saad sounds an AWFUL lot like 2007 Penguins first round draft pick Angelo Esposito. Both players, at the beginning of their NHL draft year were consensus Top 5 picks, but then as the season went on, their stock dropped in the eyes of scouts and NHL teams. Right or wrong both Saad and Esposito had potential red flags that triggered their drop "not playing hard all the time" whispered by scouts.

The Pens took a chance on Esposito, and they would have been burned on him, had they not traded him in 2008 while he still held a lot of value.

In 2011 it was known that Esposito was a bust. And, while no one knew if Saad would go down the same path, the parallel nature of that path was concerning, as it should have been.

Instead of taking another risk that burned them earlier, as we all know, the Penguins took Joe Morrow, another puck moving defenseman on Shero's record. Considering that Shero had just traded Alex Goligoski for a monster return, picking him made sense. Goligoski and Morrow had a very similar skill-set and expectation.

Granted, the future decisions weren't golden, but time machine it back to 2011 and it was not a reach for the Pens to pick Morrow (the #12 ranked NA skater) over Saad (a slumping #19).

Ultimately the Pens didn't make the right choice. Neither did I, really, even though Grimaldi is getting close to an NHL caliber forward. Saad was the best choice that they could have made, however at the time it wasn't as clear as looking back with hindsight would suggest.