Welcome to Last Word’s Draft Boom and Bust series. As the 2020 NHL Entry Draft approaches, we decided to examine each team’s best and worst pick since the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The biggest boom is a player that had the best value relative to where they were selected. Meaning, no one in the first round will be considered a team’s best value pick. However, the biggest bust picks will almost always be in the first round. We will examine each player, why they were picked where they were, and what their NHL career was like. Today, we’ll focus on the Pittsburgh Penguins Draft Boom and their Draft Bust.
Pittsburgh Penguins Draft Boom and Busts
This one is a no-brainer. Kris Letang was a third-round pick in the 2005 NHL Draft. The Penguins had him pegged to be their future number one defenceman and he sure didn’t disappoint.
He was able to make his first appearance in the NHL just a year after he was drafted; during the 2006-2007 season. Letang only appeared in seven games but scored two goals before making the full-time jump the next season. In 2007-2008 when the Penguins went to the Stanley Cup Final, he had six goals and 17 points in 63 games with just a couple assists in the playoffs. It wasn’t until the 2009 run when Letang really started to make his mark. For starters, he had 10 goals and 33 points in 74 games. But, he also had this incredible game-winner against the Washington Capitals in the playoffs:
He also had four goals and 13 points in that Stanley Cup Championship run for the Penguins. Overall, he’s racked up 127 goals and 537 points in 808 career games in Pittsburgh. His 537 points are the most points in franchise history among defencemen. He’s also finished top five in the Norris Trophy voting twice, one in 2013 when he was a finalist, and then in 2016 when he got fourth. His 2016 season was perhaps his best season as a Penguin as he had 16 goals and 67 points in 71 games. Letang also had three goals and 15 points during the Penguins Stanley Cup run, and scored the biggest goal of that run when it mattered most:
He came top three in the Conn Smythe Trophy voting after that playoff run as well, right behind Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel. The biggest knack on Letang, though, has always been his health. He usually has at least one injury per season which keeps him out for a bit. Despite that though, he’s been everything the Penguins hoped for and more since he’s been drafted.
Former general manager Ray Shero always had his issues with drafting but he struck gold when he selected Jake Guentzel. Guentzel burst onto the scene during the 2016-2017 season and it’s been a wild ride since. He amazingly scored on his first shot in his first game in the NHL against the New York Rangers. In 40 games overall that season, he totaled 16 goals and 33 points before going on an absolute tear in the playoffs. He ended up scoring 13 goals and having 21 points in 25 playoff games for Pittsburgh’s championship run. Those 21 points were tied for the most ever by a rookie in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (Ville Leino and Dino Ciccarelli did it first).
After that, he was able to have his first 20 goal season in the NHL and then also his first 40 goal season. In his first four seasons, he’s amassed 98 goals and 200 points in 243 games. He was on pace for another 40 goal season this season before it was cut short due to a shoulder injury he suffered. The best part for the Penguins is that he’s just beginning his reign in their top six.
It may look weird that Maxime Talbot is up here but he was always super underrated during his time in Pittsburgh. He was picked in the eighth round of the 2002 NHL Draft by the Penguins and slowly worked his way up. His debut on the team came during Sidney Crosby’s rookie season and he was on the team all the way up till the 2010-2011 season. He would play on Evgeni Malkin‘s wing at times but he also would play in the bottom six as well. In 388 career games with the Penguins, he had 52 goals and 108 points.
Talbot was never able to have a 20 goal season with Pittsburgh but he was able to show up in the big moments. He had eight goals and 13 points during the Penguins run in 2008-2009 with the Stanley Cup winner against the Detroit Red Wings. Having an eighth-round pick in Talbot do all that damage in just six seasons with Pittsburgh is not talked about enough.
There are a bunch of players people could put here but this goes to none other than Derrick Pouliot. Pouliot was the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft and right away, people had him ready to be the franchise’s next best defencemen. That ended up going downhill faster than the speed of light.
He ended up going through three different coaching staffs during his tenure in Pittsburgh and he never put it together. Pouliot never made the team under Dan Byslma and then when he finally made his debut under Mike Johnston, it was even more of a nightmare. He was making so many mental mistakes in the defensive zone each and every night. Pouliot also wasn’t producing the offence that we saw from him in juniors. In one of his junior seasons, he had 17 goals and 70 points in 58 games. Then in Pittsburgh for the combined three seasons he was up, he only had two goals and 14 points in 67 games.
General manager Jim Rutherford finally decided to give him a fresh start and traded Pouliot to the Vancouver Canucks for the 2017-2018 season. He showed flashes there with three goals and 22 points in 71 games during that season but then it went downhill again. He’s now on the St. Louis Blues and only appeared in two games for them before the pause. The likelihood of St. Louis ever giving him big playing time is relatively slim.
Other Honorable Mentions
Beau Bennett was picked in the first round by the Penguins in the 2010 NHL Draft and made his debut in 2012-2013. At so many times, it looked like Bennett was finally able to break out until an injury occurred. This was a player who even got injured while celebrating a goal one time. He had three goals and 14 points in 26 games for his debut season in Pittsburgh. After that, he only had 31 points combined in the three seasons that followed.
He was traded after the 2015-2016 season to the New Jersey Devils and actually had an okay season. He had eight goals and 19 points in 65 games before going to the KHL after 2017-2018. It was always a question of “What if?” with Bennett as the talent was definitely there when he was on the ice. He just couldn’t stay healthy long enough.
Daniel Sprong was another forward prospect who the Penguins thought he was going to break out but didn’t. This situation, however, wasn’t because of injuries. Sprong lit up the QMJHL with multiple 30 goal seasons but could just never translate any of it to the big leagues. Pittsburgh gave him plenty of opportunities to make his mark in training camp (They even put him on Sidney Crosby’s wing for a bunch of practices). He just could never put his wicked release of a shot together with his overall game.
After his trade to the Anaheim Ducks last season, he was able to have a bit of success at the start. He had 14 goals and 19 points in 47 games for Anaheim before only appearing in eight games this season. He’s still only 23 so while it may be too early to call his career off, we can still say his time in Pittsburgh was very disappointing