Running a Penguins blog while the rest of the network trades emails about performing a NHL mock draft makes me think of a Spongebob meme.
Some of you will get this. Some, maybe not. From knowyourmeme.com:
Squidward Looking Out the Window refers to a reaction image taken from the animated television show Spongebob Squarepants in which the character Squidward is seen looking out his window at Spongebob and his friend Patrick having fun. The image has been used in situations where one is jealously observing others having fun but can’t participate themselves.
Yeah, so that’s pretty much Pensburgh during the pre-draft process. And, even better, the Pens have already traded their 2021 first round pick to complete the Jason Zucker trade — so we already KNOW that next year we’re the odd team out yet again, barring some unexpected trade to bring in a first round pick.
Given that we have no 2020 first round pick to be excited about or talk about, all we can do is look back to history. And I actually find this really interesting, because some history and data is built up, so we can see what actually happened and what the value of these picks are, what the absolute best case would have been with hindsight and what we were right or wrong about.
Here’s a reminder of our drafting history at Pensburgh:
2020: team traded pick, no mock draft made :(
(At the risk of spoiling the first 14 picks of the SBN group’s mock draft, since we know the Pens would have had pick No. 15 before they traded it to Toronto, Pensburgh would have selected forward Connor Zary here. Toronto may/may not have looked a different direction. So that will be fun to track to see his development vs. adding an immediate help in Kasperi Kapanen, but officially we’re going to note for posterity that Zary would have been the Pensburgh pick.)
Pensburgh drafts Nils Hoglander 21st overall.
Pens’ actual pick: Samuel Poulin
Best available picks in mock draft we didn’t take: too soon to say
Best available picks in the real draft the Pens missed on: too soon to say
Pensburgh mock grade: Incomplete, but trending well. Hoglander was great at the World Juniors, scoring 11 points in seven games for Sweden (5G+6A). He played well again in the SHL, where he has remained for the start of the 2020-21 season.
2018: team traded pick, no mock draft made :(
Pensburgh: We used draft picks to trade up from 31st overall to 23rd overall with Arizona, and selected defenseman Callan Foote (who ended up getting picked 14th overall by Tampa in real life).
Penguins action: they traded their pick down and Oskar Sundqvist to move down to 51st overall and to get Ryan Reaves and, well, that didn’t work out so good.
Best available picks in mock draft we didn’t take: Robert Thomas (STL in reality)
Best available picks in the real draft the Pens missed on: A lot since they traded out of the first round
Pensburgh mock grade: Incomplete, but trending well. Foote, 21, just finished his second pro season in the AHL in 2019-20, and most don’t think he is too far away from jumping to the NHL, perhaps as soon as next season, to give Tampa yet another cheap young option.
2016: team traded pick, no mock draft made :(
2015: team traded pick, no mock draft made :(
Pensburgh: At 22nd overall we mock drafted winger Nikita Scherbak (who ended up going 26th to Montreal in reality).
Penguins action: The Pens passed on Scherbak to take Kasperi Kapanen 22nd overall, traded him one year later for Phil Kessel and then re-acquired him six years after initially drafting him
Best available picks in mock draft we didn’t take: Kapanen, David Pastrnak, Jared McCann
Best available picks in the real draft the Pens missed on: Pastrnak
Pensburgh mock grade: F. In the draft writeup, I said, “finding a potential skilled winger seems like a no-brainer, so that’s what we’ll set out to do.” Unfortunately, I took Scherbak, who only played 37 career NHL games and ended up back in the KHL for 2019-20. I missed on Pastrnak, who was the player in theory I was searching for but back in 2014 I couldn’t tell where the future Rocket Richard winner was. Then again, many NHL teams couldn’t either, Pastrnak went 25th overall in the real draft. I like the path and theory of what I was trying to do, but it’s all about executing the idea. For that, it’s a failing grade.
2013: team traded pick, no mock draft made :(
Pensburgh: At 22nd, we mock picked defenseman Slater Koekkoek (actually picked #10 overall by Tampa). This mock draft did not include the 8th overall pick (Jordan Staal trade) which was made on draft night and not known.
Penguins action: Olli Maatta (who was taken #14 in the mock).
Best available picks in mock draft we didn’t take: Hampus Lindholm, Tom Wilson
Best available picks in the real draft the Pens missed on: Brady Skjei
Pensburgh mock grade: D. Really the way this mock draft played out made it tougher to do much better than we did. Koekkoek is on team #2 and has 149 career NHL games and looks like a 6/7 defender. Ideally you want more out of a first round pick, even towards the end of the round. Lindholm (who went 6th overall in reality) should have been the pick here by us. We whiffed on it. Kinda like 2014, right idea, wrong player, but on draft day in reality Koekkoek did go 10th overall, so without hindsight and knowing how the future played out, we at least drafted a well-regarded prospect.
Pensburgh: Going 23rd overall, we picked forward Rocco Grimaldi in the mock, who ended up going #33 to Florida in the real thing.
Penguins action: The Pens took defenseman Joe Morrow in the real draft.
Best available picks in mock draft we didn’t take: Jonas Brodin, Brandon Saad
Best available picks in the real draft the Pens missed on: Saad, Philip Danault, Richard Rakell
Pensburgh mock grade: C-. Grimaldi’s career looked like it was going no where, until he got to Nashville two years ago. He’s now played 119 out of 156 career NHL games as a Predator, quietly putting up 10 goals and 31 points this season as a sneaky-efficient energy line punch. We agonized over whether or not to take Saad (who had a horrible and down draft-year) and passed. That was a mistake!
Pensburgh: At 20th overall, Pensburgh I got outvoted (wanted Brock Nelson and have email trail to show it!) but the other former editors agreed to take winger John McFarland.
Penguins action: Beau Bennett
Best available picks in mock draft we didn’t take: Evgeni Kuznetsov, Tyler Toffoli, Brock Nelson
Best available picks in the real draft the Pens missed on: Nelson, Kuznetsov, Kevin Hayes
Pensburgh mock grade: F. McFarland played three NHL games, but was mostly a career ECHL/AHL level player who retired after 2018-19. The Pens unfortunately didn’t do much better with Bennett, who played 200 career NHL games but seemingly never really got on track.
The takeaway? NHL drafting is hard when you’re selecting from the 20th-30th spots! On draft day it’s almost impossible to tell a Pastrnak from a Scherbak or a Lindholm from a Koekoek. A few years later, it’s crystal clear. It’s a tough job, especially not really being a scout and mostly relying on reports and rankings from others. NHL scouts who are full-time don’t even bat close to 1.000, identifying and projecting future pro hockey players is equal parts art, science, luck, vision and knowledge.