Looking back at what could have been when it comes to NHL drafts is always an exercise of hindsight. Sometimes useful, sometimes wishful. Sometimes totally unfair.
This imagined redraft of 2012 by the NHL stood out. The event was hosted in Pittsburgh. It’s also been easily the most important draft for the Penguins since 2005 being as they had two first round picks, by virtue of a trade that sent Jordan Staal to Carolina. Due to trades, Pittsburgh has only chosen in the first round two times in the eight years combined since then! Staal netted the Pens the eight overall pick, the highest pick they had from 2007-2020, and ironically the highest pick they had since selecting Staal second overall in 2006. Pittsburgh also had their own first round pick at 22nd overall.
Two picks in the top 22 was huge to restock around the stagnating Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin crew who could have used the talent infusion. Unfortunately, it didn’t really happen and would have to wait until later draft picks like Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust made their way into the picture.
But, back to 2012, here’s how the NHL re-drafted the event, knowing what we know now.
Looks like the @NHLdotcom staff flipped the first round of the 2012 #NHLDraft right around! Thoughts?— NHL (@NHL) May 9, 2020
MORE: https://t.co/iefIlvISDF pic.twitter.com/VkZaUlDFb6
The first impression is that, hey, the Pens got Matt Murray in the third round. That’s a gem of a pick to grab a two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie later on. Murray was a project and very unproven on draft day though. When the Pens drafted at eight, they could have had three of the four best skaters in this draft (Filip Forsberg, Teuvo Teravainen, Jacob Trouba), all of whom got snatched up soon after. They passed on all of them for Derrick Pouliot. That’s a costly miss.
Philosophically it’s a tough one to handle too. Trouba was a right shot defenseman with American roots. That’s usually right in former general manager Ray Shero’s wheelhouse. Instead, he went for a left shooting more projection pick in Pouliot. Shero didn’t often draft European forwards, and that blindspot would end up hurting too, in the case of Tomas Hertl being up there with Forsberg and Teravainen as reasonable potential selections.
Another aspect that stands out is just how weak this draft class was at the top. Nail Yakupov will go down in history as one of the weakest first overall picks in the early 21st century. He has played in the KHL for the last two seasons, yet he still remains in the top-10 of the draft class as of now in goals scored.
In the end, for the Pens, they can’t complain too much. Olli Maatta was a serviceable player in two Cup runs. Murray blossomed into a great pick. They also selected Teddy Blueger and Oskar Sundqvist from into the draft.
Further, with players like Guentzel and Rust, Pittsburgh eventually did find the second wave of young talent they needed to boost their core back to championship status, and they remain contenders to this day. But while the Jordan Staal trade did yield Brian Dumoulin as a significant future piece, the team whiffed at the top of the draft to make themselves even stronger going forward. It’ll remain hindsight but just looks like a costly chance of improvement that will go down unrealized.