Move over, Nail Yakupov. The Pittsburgh Penguins stole the spotlight from the Russian phenom with a blockbuster trade less than 10 picks into the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Pittsburgh sent center Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for center Brandon Sutter, defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin and the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, taking Portland Winterhawks defenseman Derrick Pouliot.
A deal involving Staal seemed almost inevitable after the 2006 second overall draft pick rejected a 10-year contract extension by the Penguins.
The Penguins essentially acquired a less polished version of Staal in Brandon Sutter.
The lanky center possesses similar size (6'3", 185 lbs.) when compared to Staal (6'4", 220 lbs.) and plays with a little more grit. The Penguins may lose some playmaking and goal-scoring ability, but they cleared just under $2 million in salary cap space to spend on another scorer if necessary.
The Penguins showed a commitment to aid an aging blue line that struggled immensely in an opening round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers with early draft picks.
Portland Winterhawks defenseman Derrick Puoliot joined the Penguins organization as the eighth overall selection, joining Portland teammate Joe Morrow, the Penguins 23rd overall selection last year.
Pittsburgh continued adding defense later in the round, selecting Olli Maatta of the OHL's London Knights with the 22nd overall pick. In addition to Puoliot and Morrow, Maatta joins current Knights teammate Scott Harrington, Pittsburgh's 2011 second-round draft pick, who enjoyed an extremely proficient year in London.
How would you grade the Penguins draft and trades?
All of these prospects join the highly-touted 2009 30th overall pick Simon Despres in the Penguins system. Despres saw some action with the Penguins during both the regular season and the playoffs, but he spent the majority of the year with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Pens of the AHL.
It seems general manager is focused on building the team's defense through the draft, already finding success with players like two-time NHL All-Star Kris Letang (2005) and the up-and-coming Alex Goligoski, who has scored 26 goals from the blue line over the past two seasons. He was integral in bringing 2012 NHL First All-Star team selection James Neal to the Steel City.
Before the end of day one, Shero made another move, sending veteran shutdown defenseman Zybnek Michalek to his former team in Phoenix for defensive prospect Harrison Ruopp and the 81st overall pick in the draft.
These moves not only free up a roster spot for a young defenseman in the Penguins system, they also clear about $8 million in cap space, indicating the Penguins remolding may not be complete.
The Penguins selected center Theodor Blueger out of Shattuck-St. Mary's high school in Round 2. Blueger scored 88 points in 51 games for the former alma mater of players you may have heard of—Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Zach Parise.
Both center Oskar Sundqvist and goaltender Matthew Murray became Penguin property in Round 3. Sundqvist has good size at 6'3" but needs to fill out his 172-pound frame, while Murray appeared in 36 games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, posting a lowly .876 save percentage and a 4.08 goals-against average.
Will the Penguins use the new cap space to pursue a big-name free agent?
Forward Matia Marcantouni and goaltender Sean Maguire became Penguins in Round 4.
Marcantouni was limited to only 24 games this season, but he registered five goals and 14 points with the Kitchener Rangers. Maguire played in 31 games for Powell River of the British Columbia Hockey League, posting a 2.33 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.
Defensman Clark Seymour and right wing Anton Zlobin were selected in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively. Seymour scored only seven points for the Peterborough Petes this season, but the Penguins selected him for his 6'4", 205-pound frame.
Zlobin scored an impressive 76 points for the Shawinigan Cataracts this season and the Memorial Cup-clinching goal in overtime against the London Knights, but needs to develop his defensive game substantially to thrive at the professional level.
The trades were the story of the draft for the Penguins, clearing cap space for another potential move and bolstering their blue line with more capable prospects. While the team is still centered around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, recent additions have the Penguins looking like a new team—and a scary team.