The NHL Draft starts tonight, which made us want to look back and wonder which were the best drafts the Penguins ever had? We’re going from post-1984 on here, as memory and perspective from the early days is waning and it’s pretty unfair and even more anti-climatic to just list Mario Lemieux as #1, which of course he always will be.
The Pens run of great first round picks in the ‘90s rolled on with grabbing Aleksey Morozov 24th overall in 1995. Morozov would play 451 NHL games, all for Pittsburgh from 1997-2004 before going back to Russia to stay. Always thought that was a shame since the “new” NHL post-lockout would have suited Morozov well, and he was only 28 years old in 2005, but he elected to stay in his home country and continued to have a great career there.
In the 3rd round the Pens grabbed the most average goalie in the history of goalies in Jean-Sebastien Aubin, who played 218 NHL games from 1997-2007.
And in the 5th round the team added future 513 NHL game player Jan Hrdina to pass the puck to Jagr for years to come.
Pittsburgh struck gold at 5 overall with all-time great Jaromir Jagr.
But that’s not all, in Round 4 they dug out Chris Tamer and added Ian Moran in Round 6, two defensemen who went on to have lengthy NHL careers. Add in 3rd rounder Joe Dziedzic who played for the Pens for two seasons.
This draft obviously though was all about #68 who was the top-scoring player in the NHL in the 1990’s and kept the Pens relevant and solvent through some tough times.
Considered one of the best and deepest overall drafts of all time, the Penguins were one of many teams to come away with a ton of NHL talent, adding 8 players who would appear in at least one NHL game out of their 11 total selections.
Clearly the most important move was the first one, with Pittsburgh trading from #3 up to #1 to secure the player they wanted; a bashful but smiley, wiry but ultra-athletic goalie from Quebec. All he would do is go on to be the franchise’s top goalie to date.
After Fleury, the Pens got to adding aggressive-minded players like Ryan Stone, Daniel Caricillo and future 2-time ECHL all-star (not a big deal) Paul Bissonnette.
Andy Chiodo only got a brief NHL stint, but became a franchise mainstay in Wilkes-Barre and has found himself now has been hired in the Pens organization to work with goalies.
Cap it all off with the last pick being a very productive a top-6 forward in Matt Moulson (even if he never appeared as a Penguin in the pros) and this draft had some serious heft and implications on the future.
This also is the worst draft to play the “what if” hindsight game. Pick #33 (one after Pittsburgh took Stone)? Loui Eriksson. Also drafted not long after in the 2nd round that year: a couple guys you may have heard of named Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber, Matt Carle and David Backes. 2003 was quite the draft year.
Firmly into their rebuild, the Penguins held four of the top 67 and six of the top 99 picks of the draft. They did very well in it.
People forget that Pittsburgh was the worst team in the league in 2003-04, and for all the talk/narrative about what good luck the Pens have had and owe their successes to the lottery draft, they lost it in 2004.
Fortunately, the 2nd pick of the year was Evgeni Malkin. Which is no doubt good fortune, some years the #1 overall pick isn’t as good as Malkin, let alone the 2nd best player in the draft class.
Besides adding the MVP, former GM Craig Patrick stocked the shelves for the future, leaving guys who would have NHL careers and win Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh like Tyler Kennedy and Alex Goligoski.
This draft kind of leaves a “what could have been” feeling with a few misses and no diamonds in the rough for late round picks, but adding a franchise-changer in Malkin and solid core guys in Goligoski+Kennedy makes 2004 one of the best drafts Pittsburgh as ever had.
OK, on this one no doubt the lottery gods/Bettman/deity of your choice was smiling upon Pittsburgh. The league conducted a 30-team drawing to determine draft positioning, in a snake order.
In Sidney Crosby, the Pens got the best and most productive player of this generation. In Kris Letang, the Pens have a guy who is their leading scoring defenseman in franchise history and one who will likely be the most prolific defender in team history.
Is that enough to be the best draft “class”? Well, yeah. Best forward since Lemieux and best defenseman is a whale of an accomplishment, and one super rare that only happens about once in a lifetime. Luckily for Pittsburgh, it happened twice in 21 years!