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History of the 20th Overall Pick

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
When the National Hockey Leagues convenes at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles for the first round of the annual entry draft on June 25 the Penguins will have the 20th overall selection for the second time in the past four years.

The Penguins might not have much experience choosing from the No. 20 position, although in the past they have selected Brooks Orpik at No. 18 in 2000 and Colby Armstrong at No. 21 in '01, but a delve into the history books reveals that Penguins fans can expect the team to grab a potential difference-maker despite heading up the bottom third of the first round.

Since the NHL expanded from six to 12 teams beginning with the 1967-68 season, two of the 43 players picked at 20 – defenseman Larry Robinson and forward Michel Goulet – have gone on to have Hall of Fame careers. Another – the Devils Martin Brodeur – will make it a trio as soon as he un-straps his pads for the final time.

Robinson, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995, spent 17 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and his final three campaigns with the Los Angeles Kings after being selected in the 1971 draft. He won six Stanley Cups, two Norris Trophies and one Conn Smythe Trophy as a Canadien.

Goulet, who was selected by the Quebec Nordiques with the next-to-last pick of the opening round in 1979, is one of three Hall of Famers from the ’79 first round. Although Goulet never won a Stanley Cup, he did record four 50-goal seasons and finished his career with 548 goals and 1,152 points in 1,089 career games. Goulet was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.

Brodeur, who still toils the net for the Devils, was New Jersey’s first-round selection in 1990. The 38-year-old has earned almost every major goaltending record over his 19-year career, including most wins (602) and shutouts (110). Brodeur is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist.

If those names and resumes don’t do it for you and you’d rather see evidence of recent No. 20 picks to succeed, you don’t have to look much further than some of the Penguins’ chief competitors in the Atlantic Division.

New Jersey grabbed No. 1 center Travis Zajac (right) with the 20th-overall selection in 2004. Credit - Getty Images
The New York Rangers selected Oshawa Generals blueliner Michael Del Zotto 20th overall in 2008. While most young defensemen take several years to reach the NHL, let alone make their mark, Del Zotto not only finished the 2009-10 season ranked second among first-year defenders with 37 points (9G-28A) in 80 games, he also quarterbacked the league’s 13th-ranked power play.

Del Zotto is just beginning to write his story at the NHL level, but New Jersey center Travis Zajac, whom the Devils nabbed in 2004, is now several chapters into what is shaping up to be a solid NHL career.

Zajac, a 6-foot-2 center from Winnipeg, Manitoba, has established himself as the Devils’ No. 1 center after back-to-back 20-plus goal and 60-plus point campaigns playing alongside goal-scoring phenom Zach Parise and captain Jamie Langenbrunner.

Zajac, who joined the Devils in ’06-07 following two seasons at the University of North Dakota, posted career highs this past season with 25 goals and 67 points. In addition to being a guy who plays great against the Penguins, Zajac has also proven to be plenty durable, suiting up for 326 of a possible 328 games in four seasons.

With high-profile centers such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal comprising the top-3 spots on the Penguins’ depth chart, fans are always clamoring for goal-scoring wingers who can take advantage of all that playmaking talent. If the Penguins elect to go after a winger this year, hopefully they can strike it rich like the Los Angeles Kings did in 2000 when they snatched Russian sniper Alexander Frolov.

In seven seasons with the Kings, Frolov has 168 goals and 381 points in 536 games. Frolov has hit the 20-goal mark on five occasions and surpassed the 48-point plateau six times. He has recorded 32 or more goals twice in the past four seasons.

Other serviceable players to be selected at No. 20 since the turn of the century are defenseman Brent Burns (Minnesota Wild, 2003) and forward Daniel Paille (Buffalo, 2002). Burns is a 6-foot-5 two-way blueliner who scored 15 goals for the Wild in ’07-08, while Paille currently plays for the Boston Bruins and is an effective penalty killer who has scored in double digits three years in a row.

The Penguins previously held the 20th pick – the only time they have done so in the history of the franchise – during the 2007 draft at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. Quebec Remparts center Angelo Esposito, who at various points in the two years leading up to the ’07 draft was regarded as the No. 1 prospect, was the Penguins’ pick following a season which saw him score 27 goals and 79 points for the Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Esposito of course was traded eight months later as one of the centerpieces of the blockbuster trade deadline deal which saw superstar sniper Marian Hossa and versatile forward Pascal Dupuis come to Pittsburgh.

As you can see, many talented players have been available to teams at pick No. 20. With previous No. 20 picks Robinson (1970s), Goulet (‘80s) and Brodeur (‘90s and ‘00s) forging out Hall of Fame careers, we are about due for another team to strike it big at 20.

Let’s hope the Penguins grab that player this year.

Note: One other historical fact on the No. 20 pick – Penguins assistant general manager Jason Botterill was selected by the Dallas Stars with the 20th pick in 1994.

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