After a busy weekend at the 2019 NHL draft, here’s what we learned (and didn’t learn) about what the Pittsburgh Penguins accomplished, and where they are.
#1 No major trades
After the first round, GM Jim Rutherford looked to temper expectations about a foundation shaking trade:
“My comments were at the end of the season there was a lot of speculation that everyone is available. I haven’t been shopping those guys around. I’m open to conversations, and quite frankly I haven’t had too many.”
His stance lately though sure has gone through a roller coaster of public and open twists and turns over the last nine or ten weeks.
rutherford:— fudge rodriguez (@vinnybatts) June 22, 2019
*says no one but Crosby is off the table*
*tries to trade kessel*
*non-committal on malkin returning*
*not sure about a sullivan extension*
*says he is open to accepting calls on letang and malkin*
“i don’t know where people got the idea there’d be big changes”
At the end of the day though, Rutherford didn’t make a panic move and deal his number one defensemen for two second round picks. He’s probably unable to trade Phil Kessel due to the no trade clause, and any talk about Evgeni Malkin had little to no traction in the real world with Malkin’s full no movement clause, and definite ownership interest in keeping that caliber of superstar.
One that one hand, it’s definitely encouraging the Pens didn’t make an obvious, crucial mis-steps this weekend, but on the other hand they didn’t do anything to improve in 2019-20 this weekend too — which is clearly Rutherford’s driving goal and interest.
#2 A rare first round pick made
For only the second time in the last seven years, the Penguins stepped to the podium and drafted a player in the first round. Samuel Poulin was the picks and if you missed it you can see our profile of it here.
Poulin is a big winger with some decent hands.
Pittsburgh selects Samuel Poulin pic.twitter.com/AxoRMmZTlC— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) June 22, 2019
Samuel Poulin is about that One Knee Zero Chance life pic.twitter.com/Ol1eZm36Vy— Sidney Crosby's Ego (@SidneyCrosbyEgo) June 22, 2019
Great vision, a shot that only got better as the season went on, under-rated playmaking ability, and a solid overall game pic.twitter.com/Mm7HXK0XXH— ❄️ (@Winzburgh) June 22, 2019
Poulin is by all projections a few years away from turning pro and being ready to play at the NHL level. By that measure, remember that the last Pens’ first round pick (Kasperi Kapanen) was traded before he turned pro. So too was 2007’s first rounder Angelo Esposito.
Simply drafting a player doesn’t mean that Pittsburgh has to hold onto him for too long. But it does add some much-needed youth and skill in an organizational system that has almost nothing in the 18-23 year age range.
#3 Rest of the draft
Nice recap here of the other picks made throughout the weekend on what will be the longer-term prospects and projects the team hopes will eventually develop into assets years down the line.
#4 A hectic week?
This next week is one of the most critical ones of the whole year as teams consider free agents, spend lots of money and commit towards building their team. Usually isn’t much to pick or choose from after July 2 in order to help. The Pens have no room for outside free agents, which really leaves their objectives to change the team up from last year and hopefully improve on it up in the air.
How does a team improve when they’ve locked themselves into so many expensive mid-level players, and then superstars can block trades with their NTCs? And there is no cap room to make any significant splashes.
That is Rutherford’s current dilemma to answer, and how he approaches that issue will shape the quality and ability of the team in 2019-20, and possibly beyond. Buckle up, as the best part of the off-season is unfolding as we speak.