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2013 Draft: Shero’s last stand

Ray Shero’s parting gift to the Pens might have been the 2013 draft

2013 NHL Draft - Portraits

We’re turning the clock back to a decade ago. The Penguins ended up getting swept in the Eastern Conference Final by the Boston Bruins, in a frustrating round where they only scored two goals and the offense dried up, despite hitting posts along the way.

It was supposed to go differently. Pittsburgh loaded up near the trade deadline by adding Jarome Iginla, Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray. As soon as Iginla got to the team, it all went wrong when Sidney Crosby suffered a broken jaw in the first game Iginla was there. Morrow would battle through a dislocated kneecap in the playoffs. Murray didn’t have the wheels to help much.

In that ignominious end of the season, ownership wanted changes. Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle met with then-GM Ray Shero and suggested that they should move on from Dan Byslma - who had gone through the goat rodeo in 2012 against the Flyers and then failed again by using Iginla on his off-wing. Shero insisted on keeping Bylsma for 2013-14, essentially tying his own fate in Pittsburgh to how the team would perform. We know it didn’t end well, but with all that swirling, Shero had to lead a draft in the summer of 2013.

It ended up being one of his last parting gifts to the organization that has lasted throughout the years.

Pittsburgh traded their first round pick to Calgary, who selected Morgan Klimchuk. Klimchuk, by the way, appeared in a grand total of one (1) NHL game in his career — which goes further to show why burning the bridges for an NHL talent is totally worth a first round pick for contending teams. Get talent now, don’t worry about the magic beans that may or may not be waiting in 3-4 years.

Anyways, the Pens on draft day in 2013 traded forward Tyler Kennedy for a second round pick to San Jose. Pittsburgh used that pick they acquired plus their third rounder to move up and draft Tristan Jarry at 44. Jarry was the second goalie taken in the draft (Zach Fucale went before him) and would go on to be the Pens’ No. 1 goalie for at least the past three seasons, if not more pending what happens next. Big win in and of itself, the third goalie taken in the draft (Philippe Desrosiers at No. 55 to Dallas) never played in the AHL. Jarry developed into a starter and proved to be worth the selection in his own right.

Beyond that, in an all-time stroke of good fortune/luck/drafting, the Pens still had another third round pick at No. 77. They had acquired it from Dallas in the aforementioned Morrow trade (Pittsburgh gave top prospect Joe Morrow and a fifth rounder to the Stars for their captain and a third rounder).

As has been the stuff of legend, Scott Bell (the Pens area scout in Minnesota) had a sweetheart of a player he had fallen in love with, and banged the drum loudly enough to Randy Sexton (Pittsburgh’s amateur scouting director) to also get on board with and put on the Pens radar to take in the third round.

It was a “5 foot nothin’, 100 and nothin’” runt of a prospect in the USHL named Jake Guentzel. That description isn’t much of an exaggeration, being as other scouts said Guentzel was “the kid that looks like a fourth-grader” with his slight frame and not many could project what was to come.

But Bell saw past what Guentzel was and what he could become when dealing with a immense hockey IQ that that he believed would translate as the young Guentzel became a bigger, stronger player. Lo and behold, four years later Guentzel would score 13 goals in the playoffs to help the Pens win another Stanley Cup. He’s gone onto score 40 goals two times and become a linchpin in Pittsburgh going lockstep on the ice as the winger Crosby always needed with the skill, vision and timing to produce so much.

Shero would be long gone by the time all that materialized. But in his wake, the top two picks by the Pens in the 2013 draft have gone onto be key players for a decade after him.

NHL drafting takes having great vision, talent and some luck to project talent. In Shero’s part, he trusted Sexton — who in turn trusted the conviction that his scout in Bell had to dig up a diamond in the rough. It worked out in a best case scenario in the decade to follow.