The 2018 NHL Entry Draft is the next big date on the hockey calendar. With the Stanley Cup won and parades held, the hockey world turns its focus on the upcoming season and the next line of young players to join the NHL ranks.
For this year’s draft, the Penguins will have 6 opportunities to select a player over 7 rounds. For the fourth consecutive draft, Pittsburgh will not have a first round draft pick. Theirs was traded to Ottawa in the deal that brought Derrick Brassard to Pittsburgh.
The Penguins draft positions for 2018 will be:
2nd round, 53rd overall
3rd round, 64th overall*
5th round, 129th overall**
5th round, 146th overall
6th round, 177 overall
7th round, 208th overall
*Originally Ottawa’s 3rd round pick, acquired by Pittsburgh in Brassard deal
**Originally Detroit’s 5th round pick, acquired by Pittsburgh in Riley Sheahan deal
The last time the Penguins selected a player in the first round was 2014 in Philadelphia, a selection which turned out to be Kasperi Kapanen. Kapanen spent some time in Wilkes-Barre but was shipped off to Toronto before he got any ice time with the Penguins. To find a first round draft pick that the Pens held on to, one must go all the way back to the 2012 draft which was hosted by the city of Pittsburgh. That year, the Penguins grabbed Olli Maatta 22nd overall. Along with Maatta, they selected Derrick Pouliot eighth overall with a selection originally belonging to Carolina. Pouliot was sent to Vancouver in October of 2017, while Maatta will enter his sixth season with the Penguins in October.
While the trading away of a first round pick has brought some magnificent players to Pittsburgh (Phil Kessel comes to mind), one can’t help but wonder what could have been. In 2015, the draft pick originally owned by the Penguins was used to select Matt Barzal, the leading contender for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2018. The following year, Anaheim ended up with the Penguins’ pick via Toronto and selected Sam Steel. Not exactly rookie of the year material because he has yet to play his first NHL game, but Steel remains a valuable prospect in the Ducks organization. Finally, in 2017 the Blues took a strong Russian forward by the name of Klim Kostin using Pittsburgh’s selection. Like Steel, Kostin has yet to play an NHL game.
It is easy to play the what-if game when it comes to draft picks traded away. Maybe the Penguins have a more successful season if they selected Barzal in 2015. Maybe they picked someone completely different that year. Who knows? And honestly, who cares? The moves obviously paid off, and it’s impossible to argue against Stanley Cup rings. The Penguins flipped that draft pick for David Perron, whom they then flipped for Carl Hagelin. Everything worked out as it should have. The Penguins needed Hagelin in order to win in 2016, not Barzal developing in Wilkes-Barre.
Outside of the top five or ten picks, it is impossible to speculate where players will be drafted. With the Penguins’ first pick coming in at 53rd overall, that’s a needle in a haystack the size of Texas speculation. As much as the Penguins need help on their blueline, that is a problem that is better fixed with trades, not prospects. This is still a team focused on winning, not developing.
It may be wise to start looking at centers. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are into their thirties and have been playing NHL hockey for nearly 15 years. There will come a day when a new #1 center is needed, and it isn’t too early to start drafting for one. It is incredibly unlikely that a player of that caliber will be picked anywhere other than the top five but look at Patric Hornqvist. The final selection in the 2005 draft. Now, he’s a first line winger and Stanley Cup champion.
The Penguins may not have a first overall pick this year, but that really isn’t the worst thing in the world. A lot of things can happen, and once free agency hits on July 1, few people will even remember or care where the Penguins selected their picks.