The Biggest Needs the Pittsburgh Penguins Must Fill in 2014 NHL Draft
Like any other draft in professional sports, the NHL entry draft, which will kick off on June 27 in Philadelphia, is a wonderful tool used by clubs to bring in the best players from around the world.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, who currently hold the No. 22 overall pick of the first round, have a variety of options at their disposal.
First and foremost, let’s understand that defense will not be a primary area of concern for newly-installed general manager Jim Rutherford and the front office.
The team has done a great job over the past few years by building a deep, talented and youthful defensive corps that will surely keep improving as the season goes on, and this year’s selection of players isn’t all that impressive when it comes to blueliners.
I will be focusing on what the Penguins will likely do during the first round. After the first, they won’t pick again until late in the fourth. Their second-round pick was traded to the San Jose Sharks for Douglas Murray last year, while their third-rounder was given to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Lee Stempniak back at the March 5 trade deadline.
That being said...the draft is wide open.
The top four prospects, nicknamed the “Fantastic Four” by The Hockey News, consist of Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl, Aaron Ekblad and Sam Bennett.
Though they will be at the top of many teams’ draft boards, the Penguins could easily make a move early in the day to swipe one of the future stars. It certainly would show fans that Rutherford and Co. are eager in making a splash early in their tenure.
Now let's take a look at three areas of concern the Penguins can fill with their first pick in the 2014 NHL draft.
Prospect information and player statistics courtesy of EliteProspects.com
Big-Framed, Versatile Forward
If the Penguins think they can pull off a big-time trade in Philly for a top-three pick then they should eye German-born forward Leon Draisaitl.
I said in a previous article that the club should eye Sam Bennett of the Kingston Frontenacs if a move like this goes down, but I've really started to gain an appreciation for what Draisaitl can do on the ice.
After doing quite a bit of research on the 18-year-old, I have come to believe that he would fit in perfectly as a top-six forward in the 'Burgh. His size and ability to play both center and wing have impressed not only me, but also actual scouts that matter.
Draisaitl’s 6’1”, 200-pound build gives him the NHL readiness that many kids his age don't possess. At 18 years old, he continues to grow—which could provide the Pens with an intimidation factor that I think they lack.
A trade-up like this is a long shot to begin with, and though it would certainly cost a healthy amount of picks/players for the kid, I think it’s an investment worth taking for the Penguins.
High Octane Winger
Say the Penguins opt out of the blockbuster trade and believe they can get a quality goal scorer with their current pick. After the No. 22 pick is announced and the team makes their decision, fans will see Russian left-winger Ivan Barbashev tossing on a black and Vegas-gold sweater and hat.
The soon to be ex-Moncton Wildcat “is a skilled playmaking winger with impressive vision and passing ability. He thrives in a high-paced offense,” according to Elite Prospects.
Barbashev has all the makings of a typical Penguin. Their offense oozes speed and firepower, and the fact that he is known for his ability to share the puck means he will be work just fine with the likes of Sidney Crosby and James Neal.
If the Penguins believe they don’t have to trade up to get a future all-star, then I am perfectly fine with them holding out for Barbashev.
Depth at Center
We saw a bit of mix and matching on the first forward line in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. Former head coach Dan Bylsma decided to move Evgeni Malkin from his second-line center roll to right wing. This made room for Brandon Sutter at the No. 2 spot.
The bottom-two center positions will become big question marks as Sutter continues to mature. I think Joe Vitale can anchor the third for a couple more years, but trade deadline-acquisition Marcel Goc hasn’t proved anything yet on the bottom line.
We’ll see a lot more from these guys next season, but looking forward I see another option for the Pens’ first-round pick to be used on Joshua Ho-Sang—a small, crafty center capable of working his way to the top.
Ho-Sang racked up points with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL—netting 32 goals and 53 assists last season. He is known to bring an element of excitement which would fit in well with the Penguins’ style of offense.
In Bleacher Report’s latest mock draft, Allan Mitchell has Ho-Sang going to the Anaheim Ducks at No. 24, so it looks like the Pens won’t have to give much up for the 18-year-old if they are looking to pursue him.
He will definitely be the most conservative of the three skaters I’ve listed that the team could take later this month in Philly.
The Penguins have only a single pick in the first four rounds this year so it is very possible that they could trade down for more picks. However, the No. 22 pick is not necessarily the most enticing on the board—making it difficult to predict what will happen in Philly.
The most interesting part of this year's draft for Pens fans is that they will finally get to see the beginning of the vision Rutherford has planned for this club.
While the team owns arguably the best player in the world along with other extraordinary talent, the first pick will be the new face of Rutherford’s Penguins.
The courses of action are bountiful for this team. They are certainly one of the more dynamic teams in the league, but the black and gold have a lot to work on. This draft is the first step for the Pens on the road back to hoisting the Stanley Cup.