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Report: Penguins “leaning” towards keeping 2020 first round pick, will decide tomorrow

Will the Pens keep their first round pick or send it to Minnesota?

Pittsburgh Penguins v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

The Penguins failed to win the lottery draft on Monday, so now they have to decide if they want to send their 2020 first round pick (15th overall) to the Minnesota Wild, or keep this year’s pick and send the 2021 pick, no matter when it is.

That’s how the condition of the Jason Zucker trade worked out. According to league insider Pierre LeBrun, the Pens are leaning towards keeping this year’s pick, but will decide for sure tomorrow after internal meetings.

This makes a lot of sense on many levels.

First, the 2020 pick is the best natural pick the Pens have had since 2006. In hopeful forecasts, one would think (read: hope [read: pray]) that next year Pittsburgh will have a better season and pick deeper into the draft in 2021.

Secondly, think of the covid world we live in. Junior leagues are tentatively scheduled to begin in December. Most NCAA schools are on a path to cancel all fall sports (hockey included) through at least January. It might be very tough to scout the 2021 NHL draft, and scouting is already a tough enough proposition even with the fullest of information.

So, in that vein, the Pens’ scouts probably can be better prepared to draft 15th this year — their highest pick in a while — with some confidence. Send Minnesota this year’s pick and keep it for 2021, and who knows what the landscape will be. Or if that 2021 first round pick would even be the typical valuable trade chip.

Drafting players also can improve trade value. A player like Samuel Poulin, if he makes Team Canada WJC, will be a lot more valuable draft+2 than simply his 21st overall 2019 draft slot. Similarly, Calen Addison (also traded to Minnesota in his draft+2 season) was worth a LOT more than the second round pick where he was selected.

This all adds up to the most value for the Penguins pointing towards keeping the known, high (for them) 15th overall pick. You might be able to find a NHL caliber player in draft+2 or draft+3 to help the team — which logically is one year quicker than the typical 2021 pick would develop. You could also increase your prospect pool for a future trade if a great pick is made (ala Addison).

This plan wouldn’t be without risk; the Pens have had worse finishes in each of the last three seasons. As of right now, they seem to be more on the way down than on the way up. If there’s any concern that the 2021 pick could be higher than 15th, it wouldn’t be a good look to give up a fully unprotected choice over to Minnesota, which is what it would be.

Rutherford probably isn’t managing to that fear, though. His job is to make the Pens the best and strongest they can be. Right now that would mean trusting his scouting staff to hit a home run at No. 15 overall and keeping this year’s pick in the hopes that as a future NHL player or as a trade chip with a face and ascending name that it will bring more value, and a quicker value than keeping the 2021 pick.