The Pittsburgh Penguins brought back an old friend this week when they announced that former general manager Craig Patrick had been hired to serve as a professional scout. Patrick spent more than a decade in the team’s front office and helped build a two-time Stanley Cup champion, while also having his fingerprints all over the current Penguins’ mini-dynasty.
In the early years, Patrick was constructing the 1991 and 1992 championship teams (and the 1993 Presidents’ Trophy winning team) by acquiring players like Larry Murphy, Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson, and Rick Tocchet.
In the middle years, he still had some impact trades for the likes of Luc Robitaille, Petr Nedved, Sergei Zubov, Alex Kovalev.
In the later years, well, things were bleak for the team financially and everyone had to be sold off for pennies on the dollar as the team went in the tank. Even that ended up working out as it produced draft picks that turned out to be Ryan Whitney (later traded for Chris Kunitz), Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby. Obviously, some of those players still play in Pittsburgh today. In fact, there are still four players on the roster that can be traced back to the Craig Patrick era.
Three of them are easy to figure out because Patrick actually drafted them — Malkin, Crosby, and Kris Letang.
The fourth is a little trickier.
Let’s start with the easy ones.
Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang (2005 draft). There is an argument to be made that this is the greatest draft class in Penguins history.
The 1984 draft was the most important, because selecting Mario Lemieux quite literally kept the franchise in Pittsburgh and, well, it gave them Mario Lemieux.
But the 2005 class gave them another franchise, Hall of Fame, All-Time great player in Crosby ... as well as a Norris Trophy caliber defenseman. Together, those have been the foundation of three Stanley Cup winning teams in Pittsburgh. They are still here and will be some quite some time.
Evgeni Malkin. The rare time where it didn’t actually hurt a franchise to lose a draft lottery in the year a generational player was entering the league. For the entire 2003-04 season the Penguins and Washington Capitals were engaged in a season-long tank with Ovechkin being the top prize. Ovechkin was such a prized prospect that in 2003 the Florida Panthers attempted — in more than one round — to use a draft pick on him with the argument that if you took leap years into account he would have made the cut-off for the 2003 draft class. The NHL did not buy it, which put Ovechkin in the 2004 class.
Along with ... Evgeni Malkin.
Even though the Penguins finished the 2003-04 season with the worst record in the league, it was the Capitals that ended up getting the ping pong balls to fall in their favor and select Ovechkin.
This left the Penguins with Malkin and, as luck should have it, an extra ping-pong ball in the 2005 lottery. Because the entire 2004-05 season was cancelled due to the NHL lockout, teams were assigned one-to-three ping-pong balls to determine the complete draft order. The number of ping pong balls you were given were determined by the number of playoff appearances and number of No. 1 overall draft picks teams had in the previous three seasons. Because the Penguins had not made the playoffs in a few years, and because they had never actually won a draft lottery prior to 2005, they were one of four teams to get three ping pong balls in the lottery (along with the Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, and New York Rangers).
They ended up getting the top pick and Sidney Crosby.
The draft order then “snaked” for the remainder of the draft (meaning the team with the first pick in the first round would not pick until the last pick in the second round, then get the first pick in the third round, then the last pick in the fourth round, then the first pick in the fifth round, and so on and so on).
That gave the Penguins pick numbers 1, 60, and 61 in the first three rounds.
The 61st pick was the one used to select Letang.
Patric Hornqvist. Yes, Patric Hornqvist. Hornqvist has the honor of being the current Penguins player whose spot on the roster can be traced back the furthest as a part of his trade tree. It goes all the way back to Craig Patrick’s free agent signing of ... Jeff Norton.
On Nov. 14, 2000, the Penguins signed the 35-year-old Norton as a free agent and played him for 32 mostly forgettable games. This was the year Mario staged his mid-season comeback and with him, Jaromir Jagr, Alex Kovalev, Martin Straka, and Robert Lang, the team had an offense that could not be matched by anyone in the NHL. At least as far as the first two lines were concerned.
What they did not have was defense or a capable goaltender.
That March, the Penguins traded Norton to the San Jose Sharks for Bobby Dollas and ... Johan Hedberg.
Hedberg ended up coming out of nowhere — quite literally nowhere. He was not on anyone’s radar screen at the time — to steal the starting goaltending job and went on a magical run as the team’s No. 1 goalie for the rest of that season, backstopping the team to the Eastern Conference Finals.
He remained the team’s starting goalie for a couple of years after that but was never quite the same as he was during that initial playoff run, especially as the team around him was traded away.
Finally, he too was dealt on August 25, 2003, to the Vancouver Canucks for their second-round draft pick in 2004.
The Penguins, after selecting Malkin in the first round that year, used their new second-round pick to select defenseman ... Alex Goligoski.
Goligoski eventually developed into a legitimate NHL defender (and is still a pretty good one today!) and was a regular on the Penguins’ blue line.
On Feb. 21, 2011, with the team now under the direction of Ray Shero, Goligoski was traded to the Dallas Stars for James Neal and Matt Niskanen, in what was probably one of his best trades as the Penguins’ GM.
The two played several years in Pittsburgh until Neal (in the first major move made by current general manager Jim Rutherford) was traded to the Nashville Predators in exchange for ... Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.
There you have it. How Patric Hornqvist is traced back, in a way, to Craig Patrick signing Jeff Norton early in the 2000 season.
If you really wanted to stretch it you could also include Phil Kessel in this as Spaling (who is a part of the Jeff Norton-to-Patric Hornqvist trade tree) was part of the trade to Toronto to acquire him. But the Spaling aspect of that was strictly a salary-throw-in move and not really a key part of the move. That trade was getting completed with or without him.
Not really sure what impact Patrick will have on the organization today in his current role; just wanted to look back at the players that, in some way, can still be traced to his era as general manager.