The Pittsburgh Penguins will not get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, but they do have a very, very slim chance of working their way into the top-five during Monday’s draft lottery. There is a chance they could pick fourth or fifth if some lottery balls go their way, but they are most likely going to be staying right where they are with the No. 14 overall selection.
If by some chance the lottery balls do fall their way, and they do end up with a top-five pick, I would consider that to be the only situation in which I would not want to see the new general manager (whoever they end up being) not aggressively try to shop their first-round pick.
A top-five pick, whether it be the No. 4 or 5 pick, might actually land you a player that could be meaningful for a future rebuild. Not only that, it might even be meaningful in the short-term. At that point you are still very much in the “top-tier prospect” range with a shot at potentially landing a franchise player. You are at least in the ballpark.
But the further away from that spot you get, the less likely it becomes that you find an impact player.
The middle of the first-round is draft purgatory.
If the Penguins end up there, they should aggressively shop that selection to see what they can get.
Do not trade it for the sake of trading it.
Do not just give it away.
Do not trade it for somebody at the end of their career.
But shop it. Aggressively. See what is out there.
Maybe you get somebody young, on the upswing that is a somewhat proven NHL player and can help you in the short-term and medium-range seasons. Maybe you find a cap-strapped team that needs to dump somebody and you can get a significant addition to help your defense or forward depth. Maybe you can find an NHL caliber goalie.
There is going to be a market for it from somebody.
Not only that, the odds of finding a true impact, long-term building block in that range is just not likely. Once you get into the middle of the first round you are looking at maybe a 50-50 shot of even getting somebody that sticks as a regular NHL player.
The odds of finding a top-line player even slimmer.
Let’s break it down by position.
I went back over the drafts between 2005 and 2016 and looked at every player taken from pick No. 14 through the end of the first-round. That is 12 years worth of drafts and 171 players. I did not want to just look at specific picks in the 14-15 range simply because that really cuts down on the sample size, and just because a team picking in those spots didn’t like a player that was still available doesn’t mean another team wouldn’t have liked them enough to pick them. I wanted to cast a wide net and see everybody that was available.
I also made the cut-off at 2016 because that is seven years back and by this point there is not really anybody that is still a prospect or a suspect. You know what you have with those draft classes.
Within those picks, there were 105 forwards selected.
Out of that group, only 23 of them have played at least 300 games (3.5 seasons), averaged at least a 17-goal and 40-point pace per 82 games. That is a pretty low bar for a top-six forward. And only 23 of those 105 players reached it. That is about a 20 percent chance. You have about a 20-percent chance of finding a top-six forward in the second half of the first round.
When it comes to finding a true cornerstone player, the odds plummet even more.
Only seven players out of that group have played at least 300 goals and maintained at least a 60-point average per 82 games: David Pastrnak, Claude Giroux, Kyle Connor, Max Pacioretty, Brock Boeser, Dylan Larkin, and Mathew Barzal.
If you wanted to be generous, you have some later bloomers like Tage Thompson and Jared McCann that should also be included in that group whose overall career numbers are a little lower because of slow starts. Even including them, you are still under a 10 percent chance of finding a star forward. A legit star.
It is a similar story on defense.
There have been some gems.
Erik Karlsson was picked in this group. Charlie McAvoy, John Carlson, Shea Theodore also went in this group.
But that is the extent of the top-tier defenders in this spot.
There were 57 defenders taken among that group. Along with four players mentioned above, you had another tier of players like Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei, Jakob Chychrun, Nick Leddy, and Ryan Pulock that have been very good top-four defensemen, but are not really stars. Like with the forwards, you are basically looking at a 20-to-25 percent chance of finding a top-four defenseman, and less than a 10 percent chance of finding a Norris caliber star.
There are definitely some very good players within those groups that do not find the star definition, like T.J. Oshie, David Perron, Skjei, Pulock, Matt Niskanen, etc.... but those are players you can acquire down the line. You can trade for them. You can sign them. They are not franchise-changers.
It is not impossible to find that sort of building block here, it is just not likely. That is why if the Penguins find themselves in the 14 or 15 spot, they need to try and move it.
Even if they can not move it for an established NHL player, they should try and move it to move back in the draft and stockpile more picks. There is almost no difference in value between the 14th pick and the 24th pick, so if you can not find somebody to help you now, give yourself more swings at the plate and try to get more picks. Sometimes that itself is the key to finding good players in the draft. Just giving yourself more opportunities to do it.