Penguins Update: How Important is Building Through the Draft? – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Update: How Important is Building Through the Draft?

A while back I read an article that downplayed the importance of building through the Entry Draft.


I beg to differ. Developing young talent is the life blood of any hockey team. Fail to do so, and eventually your team will collapse like a house of cards.

Ever since the Penguins won the Cup in 2009, they’ve used draft picks as fodder to trade for short-term reinforcements. Former GM Ray Shero dealt a first-round pick (2013), two second-rounders (2010, 2014) and two third-round picks (2011, 2014). His successor—Jim Rutherford—upped the ante, peddling this year’s first-round pick and a second-round choice in 2016.

The practice is understandable. With superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their respective primes, the future is now.

However, robbing Peter to pay Paul takes a toll. Anyone remember the dreadful “Boys of Winter?” The end result of GM Baz Bastien’s ruinous penchant for swapping draft picks for veterans. After drafting brilliantly his first few seasons, Craig Patrick relied too heavily on trades and pricey free-agents. It led to a fire-sale and collapse in the early 2000s.

By contrast, the Stanley Cup teams of 1991-92 and ‘09 were built upon the bedrock of homegrown talent. To illustrate my point, I’ve identified the 1988-89 and 2006-07 squads as the foundational teams for the future Cup champions.

In both of those seasons the Pens recorded winning records and made the playoffs following prolonged droughts. In each case, they achieved the turnaround largely with players developed within the organization.

Season Total Man Games Total Man Games (Draft Picks) Percent Total Goals Total Goals (Draft Picks) Percent
1988-89 1526 837 55% 347 229 66%
2006-07 1565 1068 68% 267 219 82%
Draft picks include free agents who signed their initial pro contract with the Pens

Take 2006-07, for example. A staggering 82 percent of the club’s goals were scored by players who began their pro careers with the Penguins.

Sid and Geno formed the core. Many of their fellow draftees, including Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi, Jordan Staal, and Max Talbot went on to play pivotal roles in the ’09 Cup triumph. Others, such as Colby Armstrong and Ryan Whitney, fetched missing pieces to the Stanley Cup puzzle.

How does the 2014-15 team stack up? A comparatively paltry 38 percent of this season’s goals have been tallied by Penguins draftees and first-time pros. A figure more in line with the close-but-no-cigar clubs than the Cup winners.

Unfortunately, the Pens’ developmental pipeline isn’t exactly brimming with elite talent. Yes, defensemen Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta ooze all-star potential. JR and Co. seem high on Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington, as well as goalie Matt Murray and European-bred skaters Kasperi Kapanen and Oskar Sundqvist. But the prospect pool at Wilkes-Barre—especially up front—is shallow.

With eight members of the current black-and-gold roster slated to become UFAs this summer, Rutherford once again will have some significant holes to fill. No doubt he’ll mine the free-agent market in hopes of landing a plum or two like Blake Comeau.

Perhaps it’s time for a renewed emphasis on drafting and player development, too.

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  1. Barry Lush's Gravatar Barry Lush
    March 17, 2015 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Hi Rick,

    Interesting article,in my opinion it hurts a franchise by trading away first round picks,even if it’s a late pick,a first rounder is hard to give up. The pens dealt away enough of them the last few years (Iginla trade,Perron etc).

    I’ve seen the baby pens play live here in St.John’s about 6 times over the last few years and besides Harrington,Pouliot and a couple others,the cupboard is empty,a few of them could make it up as a 3rd of 4th liner but no impact solid prospect currently playing for them. I like Sundqvist and Kappen,good picks for sure.

    I just really think that if the pens don’t win the cup in the next two seasons then it’s time to start saving the draft picks and building for the future. Sid and Geno won’t be around forever. Take a page out of the Hawks and Kings play book,how often do you see those teams trade away first rounders?

    Barry Lush
    St.John’s Newfoundland

  2. 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
    March 15, 2015 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Interesting numbers. Good article.

    I think building through the draft is very important if you want to sustain a competitive team year after year. It’s a practical reality in the cap era. You can plug the occasional hole with a timely trade but eventually, when the money gets tight, you have to go to the cupboard to replenish. The dearth of offensive talent in the Pens farm system will, at some point, bite them. It is already.

  3. March 10, 2015 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    The million dollar question is: Is the Penguins management doing it all wrong, or is their overall plan one of the best in the league?

    Would it be better for the Penguins to toil in mediocrity as the Toronto Mapleleafs have done since 1967, or is it better to tank a few seasons and get the great draft picks? Is it bad to throw away the teams future for the now? Stanley Cups are what it is all about, correct?

    Toronto, home of the Hockey Hall of Fame, hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years. The Penguins have 3 Stanley Cups since coming into the league in 1967. Other than the “original six” teams, only two teams have more Stanley Cups, the Islanders & Oilers.

    The biggest problem the tanking plan poses is the close shaves the Penguins have had with the packing up and leaving the city during each of their poor runs. On the other side, during those crappy runs, they have way more bobble head nights.

    Wish I knew the answer.

    On a side note, WOW did Pouliot look good last night. That was the best game I have seen him play so far.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      March 10, 2015 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

      Hey Phil,

      Good to hear from you, as always.

      I’m not suggesting the Penguins dump everybody and start all over from square one. As long as our core is in place, we should make every effort to position ourselves for a Cup run. Even if it means parting with an occasional high draft pick, as Rutherford did.

      That doesn’t mean the Pens can’t be productive at the draft table, too.

      Look at the job Craig Patrick and his staff did starting in the late 1990s. Daniel Carcillo, Erik Christensen and Kris Letang (3rd); Paul Bissonnette, Tyler Kennedy, Ryan Malone, Michel Ouellet, and Michal Rozsival (4th); Rob Scuderi (5th); Tom Kostopoulos and Joe Vitale (7th); Andrew Ference and Max Talbot (8th); and Matt Moulson (9th) all were gleaned in the later rounds.

      While none (aside from “Tanger”) turned out to be stars, there are some pretty decent players in that bunch.

      • March 11, 2015 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        The Penguins draft/development problems the last few years are definitely hindering their cup runs. There were some bid misses, including missing Saad in our own backyard.

        I do think that WBS’s Murray blowing away the AHL shutout record a few days ago shows there are some bright days ahead for the Pens defensively.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      March 11, 2015 at 12:04 am | Permalink

      I’m really impressed with Pouliot, too. No wonder everyone is so high on him!

      To me, he’s kind of a hybrid of Sergei Gonchar, Larry Murphy, and Sergei Zubov. His lateral mobility is amazing. So are his vision and playmaking skills, not to mention his shot and instincts for jumping into the play. He’s better defensively than I thought he’d be, too.

      The sky’s the limit…

      • March 11, 2015 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        I’m not prepared to admit I’m wrong about the Despres trade yet… but perhaps there is something to this Lovejoy/Pouliot pairing.

  4. Joseph's Gravatar Joseph
    March 10, 2015 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    the Pens and Rangers both have decimated much of there draft talent which is going to hurt. The problem is envetually you will have to trade real talent now for draft picks if you want to move forward.
    At least the Pens aren’t as bad in the fact the Rangers have traded great prospects as well.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      March 11, 2015 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Hey Joseph,

      Excellent point. With the exception of Simon Despres—who I still view as a developing player—the Pens haven’t parted with any top-tier prospects. Kenny Agostino, Ben Hanowski, and Philip Samuelsson aren’t likely to emerge as stars any time soon.

      I do wish we had more NHL-ready forwards at Wilkes-Barre. The Pens seem to like Scott Wilson (14 goals), and Bryan Rust looked like he could one day be a solid NHL player. Conor Sheary has 18 goals in 50 games with the Baby Pens, but he’s undersized at 5-9 170.


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