One random item that has been hanging in my mind for a while has been the Penguins’ struggles to convert second round draft picks into impact NHL players. This is no surprise, NHL draft value is a very sharp decline that shows teams are swimming upstream with picks really outside the top of the draft to find prospects that will turn into NHL players.
Given the black median line, it should be no surprise that over a long period of time that Pittsburgh has gotten basically nothing in the last 20 years out of all of their second round picks. (With a big exception/outlier of Alex Goligoski).
It should be noted that in recent years the Pens have done well deeper into the draft. Jake Guentzel, Matt Murray and Bryan Rust were all third round picks in the 2010’s that turned into key and elite players. That is awesome, but hard to replicate. In the 2000’s Pittsburgh had much less success in the third round, drafting only Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait and Kris Letang of any note in that round (with Letang being the first pick of the third round). As the chart above shows, the chances of finding an NHL contributor, let alone a key player for a long amount of time, is very, very remote. These are great picks and stories of scouting and development, but still the exception to the rule.
The second round though feels like it should be a place to draft a pretty talented player with a good upside. Second round picks are always valuable currency as well to add in for trades and hope to project into something valuable. But in this century, it’s been tough sledding for the Pens’ in the second round:
Penguins 2nd round draft history
|Year||Player||Career NHL games|
|Year||Player||Career NHL games|
Alex Goligoski is the clear outlier, but even going back into the 1990’s and 1980’s the second round has been mostly a wasteland for finding NHL talent. For every Richard Park or Rick Tabaracci who found ways for niche careers, there have been a handful more Marc Hussey’s or Brian Gaffaney’s that have been non-factors.
Tristan Jarry is a big chance here to exceed draft value, as is probably Teddy Blueger (though he has a ceiling of being a fourth line or lower line player). From 2016 on, it’s probably too early to judge, but we’ve already seen Filip Gustavsson not gain much traction, Zachary Lauzon was forced to retire and Kasper Bjorkqvist has dealt with significant injuries.
Just take out Goligoski, and the average NHL career as of right now is a modest 32 games per player, though again this will grow and look better as Jarry and Blueger continue and if some of the younger players work out.
Under Jim Rutherford (2014-present) of the seven picks, only Daniel Sprong has been a second round pick to appear in the NHL. He’s now on organization number three and still searching for a team and coach that will play him. It’s also pretty interesting that from Noah Welch to Gustavsson to Calen Addison and Filip Hallander that several prospects picked in this range are likely trade candidates as a contending team adds more NHL-current talent in exchange for futures. In almost all cases, this has proven to be a wise decision — a “sure thing” like adding a Gary Roberts or a Jason Zucker or a Kasperi Kapanen is well worth the cost of the future of a second rounder.
Second round picks are also important for a team like Pittsburgh, who have been incredibly likely to trade away their first round pick. That puts a bigger spotlight on a second rounder, who often becomes the team’s highest draft pick and brightest addition on draft day.
The tide of having a second rounder contribute to the Pens could always change soon. Jarry is the Pens’ starting goalie. Blomqvist has a lot of potential and is young. And, the team still has their 2021 second rounder, though subject to still be traded in the next handful of months.