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2020 update on Penguins drafting under Jim Rutherford

It hasn’t been a pretty sight for the Pens with NHL results coming out of the draft

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2018 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

Last summer at about this time, we took an in-depth three part look at the Penguins’ drafting in the Sidney Crosby era. With one more season in the books, why not circle back to take another peak to see how things are shaping up, especially in the Jim Rutherford era (2014-present).


In the slow burn of development from draft pick to NHL player, Sam Lafferty and Anthony Angello became only the fourth and fifth player drafted by the Penguins to make it to the NHL in the GMJR era.

Both project to being fourth line players, which tend to have short NHL stints. Lafferty flashed early with some speed and impressive hands but settled into being a possession-negative lower line winger. Angello has shown slow but incremental improvement in his career, but certainly won’t be an impact player at the NHL level.

The best pick of the draft was undoubtedly Kasperi Kapanen, who is a pretty good NHL player. Picked immediately after Kapanen was Connor Bleackley (a bust) but then next came Jared McCann followed by David Pastrnak and then later mostly forgettable picks (like Nikita Scherbak, Josh Ho-Sang and John Quenneville). Proving again the fickleness of the end of the first round could provide a pretty decent player (Kapanen, McCann) or bust for NHL contributions (Bleackley, Scherbak, Quenneville), or maybe, just maybe, one of the best players in the whole league (Pastrnak).

Last year we gave the Pens a B-, that still feels about right. Nice to see Lafferty and Angello graduate and make NHL appearances, but neither move the needle all that much.


Rutherford surrendered many picks this year as the Pens geared up to contend, and the past 12 months hasn’t done much for this draft. Daniel Sprong boo-boo faced a demotion to the AHL by Anaheim, put up worse stats then he did in that league two years ago at age-20 and was later traded to now his third organization in Washington. Simon scored just seven goals and added 22 points in 65 games.

Last year I gave this draft a B+, with the mindset that the Pens turned the currency that was their first round pick into Carl Hagelin (by way of David Perron). Hagelin was a key piece of putting two banners up, and that’s a great thing. The 2015 draft was so loaded, and it leaves an empty feeling the Pens don’t have much to show for it — though picking up Marcus Pettersson for Sprong now looks like a total stroke of genius.

I guess I’ll revise to a B-, being as Simon isn’t emerging as a productive player and as time goes on, players from 2015 are getting into their primes and making big impacts. For the Pens, they got Hagelin, he’s long gone, they now have Pettersson and Simon to show for one of the stronger drafts in recent memory. That’s not too satisfying.

(*Though, technically, John Marino was drafted by Edmonton in 2015, so that helps...But for this outlook of how the Pens drafted, Marino doesn’t count at all. His success is that of the trade angle, not drafting)


Yikes. This draft is adding up to not be pretty at all — and perhaps a total miss. Which is a bit surprising since the Pens had three picks in the top 77. Filip Gustavsson was traded to Ottawa as part of the ill-fated Derick Brassard trade, but again shows why even the brightest of prospects are still very risky. Gustavsson played only 24 AHL games in his age-21 season, putting up a .889 save% and a 3.23 GAA. That save% was lower than the two other regular goalies on his team. He’s still young, but his career doesn’t appear to be trending up.

Same could be said for the Pens’ last (and probably only) hope for this draft in Kaspar Bjorkqvist. Bjorkqvist turned pro but was coming off a major shoulder surgery. His professional debut only lasted six games in the AHL (recording on point) before he blew out his knee and missed the rest of the year. Bjorkqvist turns 23 this summer and still feels a ways away from helping at the NHL level, if ever.

Nothing from the later rounds has panned out, though Niclas Almari had an OK season in the AHL this year. A sturdy type of player, but the upside doesn’t look huge there either.

Bad draft. Last year we said “incomplete, but it’s not looking good” and by now we can go a step further and say that the 2016 draft is looking like a big old clunker.


Lauzon is medically retried already, Olund has departed the organization and this draft isn’t looking too much better. Ironically the last pick, Will Reilly — who was the last pick of the whole draft — may look like the brightest prospect of the bunch right now, but even then his future looks open and uncertain. We’ll see what he’s got at the AHL level next season though, which is more than you can say about the rest of this draft class.

Last year “incomplete, trending to an F” and unfortunately nothing has changed in the last 12 months to alter that course.


For an already tiny four man draft class, the Pens shipped out the best member in Calen Addison to help bring back Jason Zucker. Zucker paid immediate dividends with 12 points in 15 games, so that’s fulfilling its purpose. Kinda how it goes for a contender, trade a promising young players to improve the NHL team.

Hallander remains an intriguing prospect with a modicum of upside and potential, which really stands out in 2020 for the rest of this list. He dealt with a major injury in 2019-20 season, and to me didn’t even look like the most swift of skaters in the Pens’ 2019 summer development camp, so we’ll see how it goes for the soon-to-be 20 year old. He’s likely the best and only pick to end up in the NHL in quite some time.


As you can see from reading about 2014-18, it won’t take much to be “the best draft class in a while” type of thing for 2019, but that very much looks like it could be the case.

Sam Poulin dominated the QMJHL and is the rare first round pick to be drafted and retained a while.

The Pens could really use a player like Nathan Legare or Valtteri Puustinen hitting and developing into NHL contributors, and both had positive seasons in 2019-20. Especially Puustinen, who had a breakout season and was really good over in Finland and has opened eyes about what the future could hold after notching an impressive 40 points this year (he scored 13 last season) and for a time was among the league leaders.

It’s way too soon to see what could happen with this draft class, but it figures to be strong. First, the Pens are enamored with Poulin and it now looks safe to say he has an NHL future of some sorts ahead of him. Just to have that already puts this class in better standing then the rest.

The Pens are not building through the draft in recent years, that is very clear. They trade too many high picks to be able and rely on consistent prospects becoming NHL caliber players with regularity. Pittsburgh is better at using trades to acquire players like McCann, Marino and Pettersson (not to mention Zucker) to give their NHL club a boost.

That’s a good thing, because from 2014-18, their drafts will end up being mostly fruitless.