A Lesson in Futility: Pittsburgh Penguins at the Draft Table: 1993-1999
From 1993 to 1999, the Pittsburgh Penguins had one of the worst runs of drafting in recent memory.
In this piece, I have a look at the club's futile attempts at constructing a competitive team through the NHL Entry Draft.
Keep in mind that I'm only including the first round bombs made by Craig Patrick and Co., but take a look for yourself at rounds beyond that and you'll find only a handful of somewhat serviceable (at best) NHLers: Richard Park, Patrick Lalime, J.S. Aubin, Jan Hrdina, Michal Rozsival, Josef Melichar, Andrew Ference, Sebastien Caron, to name a few.
Also included in that list are guys like Rob Scuderi (134th overall, 1998) and Ryan Malone (115th overall in 1999), two guys who played a big part in the Penguins turning things around, though the latter wasn't around for the Stanley Cup in 2009.
So let's take a look into the past and wonder just what the hell Patrick and his scouting staff were thinking...
1993 - Stefan Bergkvist (D) - 26th Overall
I don't know what I was thinking trying to find a picture of this guy.
This is the pick that started the vomit party at the Penguins' draft table for years to come.
Drafted from Leksands in Sweden, Bergkvist went on to play seven games for the Penguins, with no points and nine PIMs. Quite a career.
Patrick could have drafted the likes of Janne Niinimaa, Brendan Morrison, or Bryan McCabe. Say what you will about McCabe, but I think everyone will admit that he would have been an improvement over the Swede in question.
1994 - Chris Wells (C) - 24th Overall
Patrick saves a bit of face here, as a couple years later he had the wherewithal to trade Wells to Florida for Stu Barnes (a personal favourite) and Jason Woolley.
Wells' illustrious career with the Penguins lasted only 54 games in 1995-96, and saw him tally a whopping four points.
Patrick Elias, Jose Theodore, and Chris Drury top the list of players that could have been Penguins that year. (Mind you, a lot of teams passed on Drury).
1995 - Alexei Morozov (RW) - 24th Overall
Morozov was billed as a can't-miss pick in 1995, with tremendous offensive upside. As it turned out, that was true, just not in the NHL.
In fairness to Patrick, the list of players taken after Morozov is awful.
Morozov never lived up to his advanced billing in the NHL. There were times when he'd show flashes of greatness, but his true potential wasn't realized until he left the NHL after the lockout. Since then, he's been a star in the KHL/Russian Super League with AK Bars Kazan, and a leader on several Russian clubs in international competition.
1996 - Craig Hillier (G) - 23rd Overall
Admittedly, I loved this pick at the time.
I saw Hillier play a great deal in the OHL and he was really great at that level.
All you need to know is that Hillier has yet to play a game in the NHL. In all likelihood, he's working a car wash somewhere.
Daniel Briere was taken at 24th overall, one pick behind the franchise goalie that never was.
1997 - Robert Dome (RW) - 17th Overall
Adding salt to the wound, the draft was held in Pittsburgh this year.
Patrick took Slovakian Robert Dome, who was plying his trade in the now defunct IHL with the Las Vegas Thunder.
Dome played in 52 games for the Penguins, chipping in 14 points.
Could have had Brendan Morrow. Shucks.
1998 - Milan Kraft (C) - 23rd Overall
Milan was a serviceable Penguin for parts of four seasons. He had 82 points in 207 career games as a Pen.
He was much better in video games.
Players Patrick could have drafted? Scott Gomez, Mike Fisher, Mike Ribeiro, and Brad Richards.
1999 - Konstantin Koltsov (LW) - 18th Overall
Granted, this was a terrible draft year for every team but the Vancouver Canucks. Patrick Stefan was the first overall pick. Rad.
Koltsov had 38 points in 144 career games in Pittsburgh. We could have had Martin Havlat.
The good news is, the Penguins now have a new #71, so nobody should remember that this plug wore the number as well.
2000 - Things Start Turning Around
After 1999, Patrick finally started turning things around at the draft table.
Its easy to look at the can't-miss first round picks of 2003-2006 (Fleury, Malkin, Crosby, Staal), but starting in 2000, the Penguins draft fortunes took a turn for the better:
2000: Brooks Orpik - 18th overall
2001: Colby Armstrong - 21st overall
2002: Ryan Whitney - 5th overall (jury is out on this pick)
Add the likes of Alex Goligoski/Tyler Kennedy (2004), and Kris Letang (2005) and Patrick had a significant hand in the building of the current Pens.
We'll forget about the John LeClair and Ziggy Palffy signings.