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Top 10 Penguins Draft Picks of the Last 30 Years

Michael SchoeffelContributor IIIJuly 28, 2011

Top 10 Penguins Draft Picks of the Last 30 Years

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    A draft pick is an investment.  Some tank right from the get-go, some flourish right out of the gate.  Some give back a big pay off over a short period of time, others give back in small, consistent increments over many years.  The best reciprocate a large reward at a steady rate.  That's what the two guys at the top of this list were able to do.

    This slideshow will cover the Penguins' 10 most successful draft picks over the last 30 years.  Not all were superstars, but one thing is for certain: they were all sound investments. 

10. Bob Errey

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    Career with Pittsburgh

     Bob Errey was drafted 15th overall by the Penguins in 1983 NHL draft.  While he never progressed into a big-time scorer, his consistency earned him the title of alternate captain for the Penguins during their back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 1990-91 and 1991-92.  

    Errey had some of the most productive years of his career in Pittsburgh during the late '80s and early '90s.  Starting in 88-89 and ending with the 91-92 season, Errey put up 58, 39, 42, and 35 points respectively and never played in less than 75 games.

    He was traded to Buffalo in 1993 and would go on to play for four other teams, but was never able to obtain the same level of consistency that he showed with the Penguins.  He retired in 1999 and returned to Pittsburgh—this time as a broadcaster for Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh.   

    Here's a clip of Errey putting the "color" in "color commentator:" 


    Stats with Pittsburgh (All-time team rank in parenthesis)

    572 games (8), 124 goals, 134 assists

9. Troy Loney

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    Career with Pittsburgh

     Like Bob Errey, Troy Loney is on this list because of his consistency over a long period of time, not for one or two outstanding statistical seasons (Loney could be dubbed the anti-Mark Recchi, for what it's worth).  He was an investment that paid back year after year, at a small, steady pace.  

    Loney was a career third and fourth liner during his ten year career with the Penguins.  He was part of the Penguins' two Stanley Cup championships in the early '90s.  He was a physical player who earned his paycheck as a hard-hitting winger with a speciality in killing penalties. 

    Loney played ten seasons with the Penguins, notching 69 goals and 100 assists in 532 games.  

    Here's a video of Loney throwing fisticuffs with the Capitals Alan May. 


    Stats with Pittsburgh (All-time team rank in parenthesis)

    532 games (11), 69 goals, 100 assists


8. Mike Bullard

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    Career with Pittsburgh

     Yes, Mike Bullard is so obscure in the eyes of the general public that I couldn't even find a picture of him in Getty images to put at the top of the page.  The only thing that came up when I put his name in the search bar was some long haired soccer player named Jimmy Bullard.

    But don't let that fool you.  Mike Bullard was a very talented hockey player.  He logged seven seasons with the Penguins, scored 30 or more goals five times, 65+ points five times, and made the 1984 All-Star team.  Unfortunately for Bullard, his success came during a dark age for Pittsburgh Penguins hockey.  They failed to make the playoffs in Bullard's final five seasons, and Bullard was traded to Calgary for Dan Quinn, who went on to have two prosperous years with the Pens.

    Bullard scored 185 goals with Pittsburgh, good enough for seventh in team history.

    Now, here's a grainy video of a barely-visible Bullard getting "speared" during his days with the Calgary Flames.


    Stats with Pittsburgh (All-time team rank in parenthesis)

    382 games, 185 goals (7), 175 assists

     


7. Mark Recchi

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    Career with Pittsburgh

     Mark Recchi spent only a little over three seasons with the Penguins, and his stats from the first two seasons were underwhelming at best (69 points in 89 games). There was no reason to think that he would blossom into anything more than an average NHL winger. After all, he wasn't drafted until the 4th round of the 1988 draft.

    Then came the 1990-91 campaign. The numbers tell the story of a young player finally blossoming at hockey's highest level. What they don't tell is the circumstances under which his unexpected success occurred.

      Mario Lemieux, the Penguins statistical and emotional leader, went down early in the season with a back injury and missed the majority of the regular season. The roster didn't featuring many scoring threats, so there was little expectation that somebody would be able to step and fill the huge void in production. But that's exactly what Mark Recchi did. He shrugged off the two previous seasons of mediocrity and led the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup victory, while posting team-highs in goals (40), assists (73), and points (113).

    Thankfully for Pittsburgh fans, Lemieux returned at the beginning of the Stanley Cup playoffs and Recchi continued to perform at a very high level. The Pens stormed through the playoffs and eventually defeated the Minnesota North Stars in six games to win the Stanley Cup. The final game, which was played in Minnesota, was an absolute massacre. Lemieux put up four points and Joe Cullen added three more in an 8-0 rout. Recchi scored only three points in the finals, but tallied an impressive 34 points in the playoffs.

    Recchi was traded to in-state rival Philadelphia in February of 1991. He would go on to have some very productive years with the Flyers and the Canadiens, and would even return to Pittsburgh on two occasions late in his career, but 1990-91 remains his most successful statistical season to date.

    Recchi won his second Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006 and his third with the Boston Bruins last season.

    Here's an interview with a shirtless Recchi.

     

    Stats with Pittsburgh 

    307 games, 130 goals, 187 assists

6. Martin Straka

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    Career with Pittsburgh

    Straka is only on this list because of his second stint with Pittsburgh.  

    He was originally drafted by the Pens in the first round of the 1992 draft, but played only 2.5 seasons with the club before being shipped to Ottawa in 1995.  

    When Straka filed for free agency in 1997, Pittsburgh decided they wanted their man back.  Luckily Straka had similar feelings, so he signed with the club on August 6. 

    Both sides were much happier with the relationship the second time around, although Straka really didn't hit his stride until his second year back with the club, the 1998-99 season.  He put up 83 points in 80 games and helped the Pens reach the Conference semifinals.  Two years later Straka had the biggest year of his career—95 points in 82 games—and the Pens advanced all the way to the conference finals before being ousted by the much maligned New Jersey Devils in five games.  

    His career with the Penguins finally ended in 2003 when he was traded to the Kings for Martin Strbak and Sergei Anshakov.  Strbak would play in only 44 games for the Penguins.  Anshakov never even reached the NHL. Straka would put up decent numbers for the Rangers at the end of his career, but like Rob Errey, his most productive years were with the black 'n gold.

    He's ninth in Penguins history in goals (165) and points (442)

    Here's a clip of Straka scoring two over time goals during the 2001 playoffs.

     

    Stats with Pittsburgh (All-time team rank in parenthesis)

    560 games (9), 165 goals (9), 227 assists, 442 points (9)

5. Marc-Andre Fleury

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    Career with Pittsburgh

     When the Penguins snagged Marc-Andre Fleury with the first pick in the 2003 draft, they made him only the third goalie in NHL history to be drafted first overall.  The other two, Michel Plasse and Rick DiPietro, didn't exactly set the league on fire.  Plasse, who was drafted by the Canadiens, had only one winning record in eleven seasons.  DiPietro hasn't been the bust that Plasse was, but also hasn't blossomed into the superstar that the Islanders' thought he would be.  Neither Plasse or DiPietro have made it past the first round of the playoffs.  Fleury has made it to the Stanley Cup finals - twice.  

    Of course, much of Fleury's success can be attributed to the fact that he's surrounded by world-class talent, such as Malkin and Crosby.  But Fleury is also a world-class talent.  He had an outstanding junior hockey career in the QMJHL and led the Canadian National team to a silver medal in the World Junior Chamionships.  Since his NHL debut in 2003, he's been top 10 in wins four times, goals against twice, shut outs twice, and games played four times.  He made his first All-Star appearance last season and was a major factor in Pittsburgh's back-to-back Stanley Cup appearances.

    Against the Red Wings in the 2008-09 Stanley Cup finals, Fleury bounced back from a horrific game 5 in Detroit (5 goals on 21 shots) to hold the Red Wings to just two goals in the final two games.  He also made one of the greatest saves in NHL playoff history, denying Nicolas Lidstrom the game-tying goal as time expired in the seventh game.  

    The jury is still out on whether Fleury will evolve into one of the league's elite goaltenders.  At 27 years old, he's entering what many consider to be prime years for a goalie, so the next couple of seasons should determine Fleury's NHL legacy.

    As it stands now, however, he's one of the greatest goaltenders in Penguins history.

     

    Check out Fleury's incredible save in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.

     

    Stats with Pittsburgh

    .908 save percentage (1), 2.74 goals against average (1), 184 wins (2), 19 shutouts (2)

4. Evgeni Malkin

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    Career with Pittsburgh

    He may struggle with his English from time to time, as evidenced in many of his interviews and television appearances, but luckily for Evgeni Malkin the language of hockey is universal. And it happens to be a language that he's completely fluent in.

    Malkin has been wowing hockey fans across the world with his ultra-smooth skating style and his nasty backhand since his NHL debut in 2005. At the ripe young age of 20, "Geno," as he is sometimes referred to, went point for point with fellow phenom Sidney Crosby for most of the season, earning a spot on the NHL's all rookie team as well as a Rookie of the Year trophy.

    "I do my best," Malkin said. "I try to help my team win."

    The following year, 2007-08, Malkin put up even gaudier numbers (106 points in 82 games) en route to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. The Pens would lose to the Red Wings in six games, but the young Russian took away some much-needed big game experience. The next season was a break out one for Malkin. He won the Art Ross Memorial Trophy as the league's top goal scorer and the Pens avenged their Stanley Cup finals loss, outlasting the Red Wings in seven games. Geno brought home the Conn Smythe Award as the the MVP of the playoffs and scored one of the most memorable goals in Penguins playoff history:

    It was game two of the Eastern Conference finals and the Pens were up 5-4 against the visiting Hurricanes late in the third period. During a faceoff in the Hurricanes zone, Malkin poked the puck through the legs of the opposing center, beat a defender to the puck, glided around the back of the net, threw on the brakes and fired a no-look backhand into the top right corner of the net. It was a prime example of why Malkin is one of the most talented young players in the game. It showcased Geno's incredible strength, puck control, and hockey instincts.  Oh, and the goal gave him a hat trick.

    Unfortunately, Geno was sidelined for much of last season with ligament damage in his knee. The injury required surgery, which was completed successfully. As long as he suffers no complications he will be ready to by the start of the season.

    In the mean time, Penguins fans can get their Malkin fix by watching this cooking video, which features Geno throwing out lightly-veiled come ons towards an attractive host in broken English while cutting cabbage into small pieces.

     

    You can check out Malkin's amazing goal here.

     

    Stats with Penguins

    352 games, 158 goals, 260 assists

    All-Rookie Team

    Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year)

    Art Ross Trophy (top point scorer)

    Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP)

    All-Star x2

3. Sidney Crosby

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    Career with Pittsburgh

    The media dubbed him "The Next One" before he played his first minute of professional hockey.  

    "The Great One" called him the most talented hockey player since Mario Lemieux.  

    Former Penguins Coach Michel Therrien named him assistant captain half way through his rookie season.  

    It's safe to say that Canadian prodigy Sidney Crosby entered the league surrounded by a flurry of hype and expectations.  Those expectations stemmed from an outstanding junior league career, and made him the most sought-after player in the 2005 NHL draft.  

    What's more is the NHL was coming off a lockout-shortened season in 2004.  The league needed a fresh, exciting talent to not only reel in new fans, but to bring back long-time fans who were soured by the lockout.  

    Thankfully for Penguins fans, Sid the Kid landed in Pittsburgh - and was promptly given a home by Penguins legend and owner Mario Lemieux to keep him away drugs, women, and other hedonistic temptations.

    Thankfully for the NHL, he lived up to - if not exceeded - expectations in his rookie year, scoring 102 points and finishing second to Alexander Ovechkin in rookie of the year voting.  Despite these individual successes, the Penguins still finished second to last in the Eastern Conference.  But it was only a matter of time before Pittsburgh fans would be treated to a winner on the ice.  

    The Pens reached the finals in '07-08 behind Crosby's 28 postseason points, but lost to the Red Wings in six games.

    Crosby and the Pens exacted revenge on the Wings the following season, winning one of the most thrilling series in recent memory in seven games.  Crosby contributed lead the way with 15 goals.

    Of course, the question now is whether or not Crosby can return from the devastating concussion that caused him to miss half of last season.  He was on pace for a career year when the injury occurred in January and wasn't able to return to the ice.  Within the last few weeks, Crosby has been cleared by trainers to partake in full team workouts and should be ready to go for the season opener.

    Here's a video of Crosby posing awkwardly for photos, sitting half-naked in the locker room, and attempting to play goalie.

    Stats with Pittsburgh

    412 games, 215 goals (6), 640 assists (2), 572 points (6)

    All Rookie Team

    Calder Memorial Trophy

    All-Star x2

    Art Ross Trophy

    Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP)

    Ted Lindsay Award (MVP as voted upon by NHLPA)

    Maurice Richard Award (top goal scorer)

2. Jaromir Jagr

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    Career with Pittsburgh

     The number two spot was a toss up between Jagr and Sidney Crosby.  As important as Sidney has been to the Penguins and the NHL, he simply hasn't been around long enough to be ranked above Mr. Jagr.  He might get there eventually.  In fact, it's likely that he will surpass Jagr's output as long as he stays healthy.  But for now, Jaromir gets the silver medal.

    Jagr was drafted 5th overall in 1990 NHL draft, the same year that the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup.  Jagr was only 18 years old at the time and played second fiddle to guys like Mark Recchi and John Cullen.  But the talented youngster was far from a non-factor.  He appeared in all but two games, notched a respectable 57 points, and earned a spot on the All-Rookie team.  

    The team repeated as Stanley Cup Champions the following season.  Jagr contributed 69 points in 70 games.  

    Over the next nine seasons, Jagr and Lemieux would lead the Penguins to nine straight playoff appearances.  Over that span Jagr would win five scoring titles, one Hart Memorial Trophy, and grow one of the greatest mullets in the history of the NHL. 

    Jagr was traded to the Washington Capitals in July of 2001 and then to the New York Rangers in 2004.  He left the NHL in 2008 and signed with the KHL, a Russian League.  

    He signed a one year deal with the Flyers on July 1 of this year.  

     

    Here's a video of Jagr driving around Pittsburgh.

     

    Stats with the Pittsburgh

    806 games (2), 439 goals (2), 640 assists (2), 1079 points (2)

    All-Star x7

    Art Ross Memorial Trophy x5

    Hart Memorial Trophy x1

    Ted Lindsay Memorial Trophy x1




1. Mario Lemieux

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    Playing Career

      It's not a stretch to say that Mario Lemieux is the greatest draft picks in the history of the NHL.  No other player has done as much for a franchise, on and off the ice, as Lemieux has done for the Penguins.

    That makes it hard to believe that the two started on shaky ground.

      The Penguins had the first pick in the 1984 draft.  They knew they wanted Lemieux (he put up legendary numbers in a Canadian junior league), so they started contract negotiations prior to draft day.  Lemieux and his agent were unhappy with the negotiations, so when Lemieux's name was called on draft day he refused to put on a Penguins jersey.

    Thankfully, the two sides finally came to an agreement.  The rest is history, as they say.

    In his first season with the Penguins he tallied 100 points (43 goals, 57 assists) on his way to the Calder Memorial Trophy, the NHL's Rookie of the Year award.  In his second season, he put up 141 points and stole the Ted Lindsay (NHL's MVP, as voted upon by the players) award from Wayne Gretzky, who had won it the previous four years.

    The very next season, 1987-88, Lemieux denied Gretzky his eighth straight Art Ross award (top point scorer).  Lemieux won the award the next season, Gretzky followed up with two in a row, then Lemieux answered with two of his own.  

    "He could snap a puck through a refrigerator door," Gretzky said of Lemieux.

    Lemieux was sidelined with a back injury for the majority of the 90-91 season, but when he returned he was as dominant as ever.  He scored 45 points over the last 26 games of the regular season, then went on a legendary playoff run (44 points in just 23 games) while leading the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup.  Lemieux was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy as MVP of the playoffs.

    He would lead the Penguins to another Cup the following year, winning the Art Ross and Conn Smythe trophies along the way.  

    Lemieux retired in 1997, purchased the franchise in 1999 and saved the team from financial ruin by settling all of it's debts.  He returned to the ice in 2000, becoming the first owner/player in NHL history.  He had several productive seasons and eventually retired for good in January of 2006.  

    Here's a great tribute video to Lemieux.

     

    Stats with Pittsburgh (all time LEAGUE rank in parenthesis)

    915 games, 690 goals (9), 1033 assists (10), 1723 points (7)

     All-Star x9

    Art Ross Trophy  x6

    Hart Memorial Trophy (NHL MVP) x3

    Conn Smythe Trophy x2

    Masterson Memorial Trophy (sportsmanship) x1

     

     

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