Ranking the Pittsburgh Penguins' Last 10 First-Round Draft Picks

Michael Prunka@MichaelPrunkaCorrespondent INovember 12, 2012

Ranking the Pittsburgh Penguins' Last 10 First-Round Draft Picks

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins have drafted the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the first round to build the Stanley Cup-contending team they have today. Not all of their first-round draft picks have had the same success, though.

    Some of the picks the Penguins have made in Round 1 have been nothing more than a bust. That’s not to say they’re bad players, though. Some simply never had the opportunity to demonstrate their talents.

    Even so, their first-round draft picks have helped assemble a team of All-Stars and an amazing pool of prospects.

    With that in mind, let’s take a look back and rank their last 10 first-round draft picks.

10. Angelo Esposito (2007)

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    Angelo Esposito was drafted 20th overall by the Penguins in 2007. He showed promise as a center with above-average offensive awareness and stick-handling ability.

    Unfortunately, Esposito never had the opportunity to show his worth on the main stage. He’s been traded around the AHL circuit numerous times over the past few seasons.

    The Penguins originally shipped him off to the Atlanta Thrashers along with Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen and a 2008 first-round pick in return for Pascal Dupuis and Marian Hossa.

    The Penguins got a good trade out of him, but his otherwise lack of an impact earns him the bottom spot on this list.

    Time in the AHL gives Esposito the opportunity to address his weaknesses, such as his defensive play. On the other hand, he hasn’t been given a chance to settle in and adjust to a new home. 

9. Beau Bennett (2010)

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    Beau Bennett was snatched by the Penguins in Round 1 of the 2010 NHL entry draft.

    Bennett is a great playmaker with a good eye for setting up plays and passing abilities to get it done. While playing for the University of Denver in 2010-11, he tallied 29 goals and 48 points in 37 games.

    He’s off to a good start with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the AHL. He has seven points in his first 12 games.

    Bennett needs time to adjust to the professional game. Expect him to play another season or two in the AHL before becoming a mainstay on the Penguins lineup. If he can adjust, he has the potential to be a solid second-line forward. 

8. Joe Morrow (2011)

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    The 22nd overall pick in 2011 yielded Joe Morrow for the Penguins. With that, Pittsburgh added another capable offensive defenseman to its prospect pool.

    Morrow’s speed and pinpoint accurate slap shot make him a valuable player to any team. With some time in the AHL to grow and gain experience, Morrow will fit right in as a depth defenseman.

    He needs to work on the defensive side of the game, though. He’ll never find his way to the Penguins roster if he has a reputation for being a liability on the ice. 

7. Olli Maatta (2012)

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    Olli Maatta is one of the most recent additions to the Penguins franchise. The Penguins picked him up 22nd overall in the 2012 NHL entry draft.

    Maatta is a two-way defender with incredible potential. At the ripe age of 17 years old, his defensive ability is already NHL level. He is also very adept at moving the puck and has a good overall mind for the game.

    All he needs to do is work on his offensive skill set and add some bulk and he’ll be ready to make his NHL debut. Maatta has his best years ahead of him and could definitely be a top-four defenseman.

6. Derrick Pouliot (2012)

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    The Penguins drafted Derrick Pouliot with the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft they acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes.

    Pouliot is a phenomenal offensive defenseman that, much like Kris Letang, has valuable scoring to add from the blue line. His passing, shot and skating skills give him the potential to be a future NHL All-Star.

    All he needs to do to become a top-tier blueliner is improve his play in his own zone and add more intensity to his game. In addition to becoming a better rounded defender, Pouliot would become a huge threat on both the power play and penalty kill.

    Pouliot has incredible potential. There’s no telling how far he can go. 

5. Simon Despres

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    The Penguins snagged a great two-way defender when they drafted Simon Despres with the 30th overall pick in 2010.

    In 2011, Despres won the Emile Bouchard Trophy for QMJHL defenseman of the year. That alone speaks levels of his skill in the position.

    He boasts above-average ability at breaking up offense and strength that’s hard to find at his age. He’s more than reliable in the defensive zone and can even score from time to time—especially from the point on the power play.

    That said, he proved how much he has to add to the team during the 21 games he played between the regular season and postseason in 2011-12.

    One of Despres’ only weaknesses is his decision-making. Once he gets a better grasp of when to move the puck and when not to, he could be a top-four defenseman. Time in the AHL during the lockout should help him address that.

4. Jordan Staal (2006)

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    The Penguins brought in center Jordan Staal with the second overall pick in the 2006 NHL entry draft.

    Staal was a cornerstone during his time with the Penguins. He was an incredible offensive force who could be relied on to score more than 40 points a season. At 6'4" and 220 pounds, he also brought an important physical presence to the ice.

    He was also dangerous on the penalty kill. Staal was skilled at breaking up offense with his poke check. Add in the fact that he was notorious at scoring shorthanded goals, and he’s a player any team would value when playing a man down.

    Staal spent most of his time with the Penguins on the third line. He brought important depth to the lineup, but was underutilized in that position. This ended up being a factor in what led to his trade.

    At the 2012 draft, the Penguins traded Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes. In return for reuniting him with his brother Eric, the Penguins received Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the eighth overall pick that became Derrick Pouliot.

    Sure, the Penguins will miss Staal. After all, he was pretty instrumental in the team winning the Stanley Cup in 2009.

    Even so, he contributed a lot to the team while he was there. Add in the fact that the Penguins get a good deal from the ‘Canes, and Jordan Staal is easily one of their best first-round draft picks.

3. Evgeni Malkin (2004)

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    Evgeni Malkin joined the Penguins when they drafted him second overall in 2004. Upon doing so, the Penguins added one of the most potent scorers to ever skate on NHL ice to their roster.

    Malkin has added a lot to the Penguins simply through his incredible offensive skill. He’s scored at an absurd pace since day one.

    Take, for example, the Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup campaign. Malkin played an active role in their championship win. He led the league in scoring in the regular season and the playoffs.

    His strong, hard-hitting play has also been important to the Penguins. Malkin lays the body harder than a hefty majority of NHL forwards. The Penguins have certainly enjoyed the physicality Malkin brings.

    So long as Malkin can get over the postseason slumps he’s been experiencing the past few years, it will only be a matter of time before he helps lead Pittsburgh to another Stanley Cup. 

2. Marc-Andre Fleury (2003)

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    With the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL entry draft, the Penguins selected elite goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

    Fleury has contributed a lot to the team over the years. He’s earned a reputation for being one of the most reliable goalies in the NHL. He's clearly illustrated that by starting over 60 games a season for the last four seasons.

    His reliability translates to his playoff performance. It’s almost as if Fleury plays on a whole new level when the Penguins are gunning for the Stanley Cup.

    When the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, Fleury had a .908 save percentage and 2.61 goals-against average in 24 games. While hockey—especially playoff hockey—is a team effort, the Penguins never would have hoisted the Cup without Fleury’s proficiency in the crease.

1. Sidney Crosby (2005)

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    The 2005 draft lottery was nicknamed the “Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes” because whichever team won the first overall draft pick was sure to select Crosby.

    Well, the Penguins won the sweepstakes and drafted “Sid the Kid.”

    Crosby has been a bona fide superstar ever since. He’s shattered all sorts of records and has even earned the nickname “The Next One” as a sort of reincarnation of Wayne Gretzky.

    His performance in the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs was a huge reason the Penguins captured the championship. In the 24 playoff games, he scored 15 goals and 31 points.

    But Crosby’s offensive ability is only one facet of his game that makes him the undisputed best of the last 10 first-round draft picks.

    His leadership on and off the ice is really what puts him over the top. The Penguins proved this past season that they can fend for themselves without Crosby. While that’s true, they play like a completely different team with Crosby on the ice.

    Scoring can only take a person so far. It’s the intangibles that truly set Crosby apart from the others. Yes, his offensive contributions played a part in their Stanley Cup win a few years back.

    However, who knows where how far the Penguins would have gotten if it wasn’t for the intangibles—like leadership—that Crosby brings to the table? 


    Michael Prunka is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and Sports Writing Intern. Stay up to date with him by liking his Facebook page and following him on Twitter.