Malkin, Fleury, Staal, Crosby – those are some of the names the Penguins have drafted over the past several seasons.
This year, however, the player the Penguins select in the first round at the NHL Entry Draft on June 22 in Columbus won’t have as marquee a name – at least not yet.
That’s because the Penguins, thanks to their playoff season, will draft at No. 20 in the first round. That’s quite a change from the team’s long run with picks at or near the top of the order that yielded such talented players like Jordan Staal (No. 2, 2006), Sidney Crosby (No. 1, 2005), Evgeni Malkin (No. 2, 2004), Marc-Andre Fleury (No. 1, 2003) and Ryan Whitney (No. 5, 2002).
“I don’t know if the guy we pick will play right away like Mr. Staal did,” Penguins Director of Amateur Scouting Jay Heinbuck said. “We’re slated to pick at No. 20 and we feel that we should be able to get a prospect that, with some seasoning, will help this organization.”
Penguins Executive Vice President/General Manager Ray Shero agrees.
“It’s pretty good to be picking that late. I am confident in the staff that we’ll be able to get a quality player that is going to help us for a number of years. It might be a few years before he does.”
While Penguins fans have been fortunate to see youngsters like Malkin, Crosby and Staal all shine in the NHL before their 21st birthday, the days of seeing a player like Staal make the NHL at 18 and excel may be over for a while in Pittsburgh.
But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering picking later in the first round means the Penguins are racking up the points.
“Picking later certainly doesn’t make our jobs any easier, but it means the team is successful,” Heinbuck said. “And, we’re very happy with that.”
Heinbuck and Shero insist the Penguins will draft the best player available when it’s their turn to pick. The same philosophy was followed last year when Shero selected Staal, a center, even though the Penguins already had Crosby and Malkin up the middle.
“Jordan was a combination of too many things to pass up. He certainly showed those a lot sooner than we thought. The size, the hockey sense, the range – he can do a variety of things to help you win games. You can talk about his pedigree and family background, but that really didn’t play into it too much, quite honestly,” Shero said. “When we drafted him that day, I was drafting Jordan Staal and not his brothers. Moving forward, we’re looking for great things from Jordan Staal and we’re really happy with the year he had.
“I really think we’re going to pick the best player available. It’s no different than drafting Jordan last year. Everyone said we already had Crosby and Malkin, so why would you take a center? Well, we said good players want to play with good players and Jordan certainly is a good player. At No. 20, we’re looking for the best asset. It could be two, three or four years before that player may play for you, so we’re looking for the best asset regardless of position.”
Heinbuck, who joined the Penguins after last year’s Entry Draft, agrees with that philosophy.
“My philosophy and our philosophy is that we’ll take the best asset at that spot,” he said. “Hopefully, if we have to flip that later down the road for another asset, then we can do that. I don’t think we want to give up a very good asset just to get a position player.”
While this draft may not have the superstar potential of last year’s class, with the likes of Erik Johnson, Jonathan Toews, Phil Kessel and Staal, there is some talent available.
“It’s funny because at the start of this season, everybody talked about how it wasn’t a very deep draft. But, as we go through the season and watch, I don’t think the top four or five are going to be like a Jordan Staal and play for their NHL teams. There are still some quality players at the top,” Heinbuck said. “What’s nice about it is that, in the first round after you get past those first five or six prospects, there are still some good guys from No. 6 until 16 or 17 and that’s where we have to hope one of those guys is still there when we pick. Then, there’s another good grouping we’ve pointed to in the second round. We’re hoping to get some good players in that round and the third round, too.”
The Penguins hope to add to their depth by the time the draft wraps up the second day (Rounds 2-7) on June 23.
“I think, with any draft, when you’re picking in the first round, you want to get the best asset you can. You’re looking for the upside of a player. Like any team, I think we want to add depth at positions,” Shero said. “Last year, we took Jordan in the first round, but in the second and third rounds we took two defensemen in Brian Strait and Carl Sneep, who are both in college. We took a goaltender late, too. We’d like to add to our goaltender mix if the right player is there. Ideally, we’d like to add some depth at some positions and that’s usually how you want to do it.”
The Penguins’ 2007 draft picks
Round 1 – No. 20
Round 2 – No. 50
Round 3 – No. 79
Round 4 – No. 110
Round 4 – No. 117-120 (depends on Detroit’s finish in playoffs)
Round 5 – No. 140
Round 6 – No. 170
Round 7 – Traded to San Jose for Nolan Schaefer.