Courtesy of Point Park University

Revisiting 15 years of first-round picks ☕


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Olli Maatta, first-round pick in 2012. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

The Penguins will have a first-round selection in the NHL draft for the first time since 2014.

Looking back at the past 15 years, only two players selected by the Penguins in the first round are still in the organization. What happened to all of those first-rounders? Let's revisit the players selected with those picks and the trades made involving the picks.


The Penguins traded the 2018 first-rounder, along with Ian Cole, Filip Gustavsson, and a third-round pick in the 2019 draft to the Senators, in a three-team trade that also sent Ryan Reaves and a fourth-round pick to the Golden Knights, and brought Derick Brassard (at 60 percent salary), two prospects, and a third-round pick to Pittsburgh

At the time: “We’ve tried to get more depth at center and get more insurance there,” Rutherford said of acquiring Brassard. “Our centers have played pretty well, but you’ve got to have a lot of strength at center and when we felt we had a chance to get a guy like this … this is a good addition.”

In hindsight: Yeah, this one didn't work out. Brassard never fit in that third-line center role and was unhappy with having so little responsibility, compared to his role in Ottawa. It was a costly experiment.

“(Mike Sullivan) had Sid and Geno in front of me," Brassard said after he was traded to Florida. "We were all at the same position, so sometimes I felt like it was hard for me to be engaged and be involved and be confident in making plays. The power play was focused on the No. 1 unit. Sometimes I would only go out there for 20 seconds. As an offensive player, you want to be out there, to get your touches, to get some confidence. It’s just the way it was there."


The Penguins sent Oskar Sundqvist and the No. 31 overall pick to the Blues in exchange for Ryan Reaves and the No. 51 overall pick (Zachary Lauzon) in the 2017 draft.

At the time: "(Reaves is) a guy that brings a physical dimension to our team, which is something that I think can help us moving forward," said Sullivan. "He's good on the forecheck. He's a sound two-way player that we can put on the ice."

"When you want to get the guy that's the best at doing what he does, then you have to pay a price," said Rutherford. "Regardless of what we paid, we're very happy to have him."

In hindsight: This one didn't pay off, either. Reaves was traded to the Golden Knights in February, after playing only 58 games as a Penguin. The Penguins only dropped down 20 spots in the draft with this trade, but the Penguins ultimately relinquished their signing rights to Lauzon this summer, after he never fully recovered from a concussion suffered in April 2017. Meanwhile, Sundqvist is doing pretty alright for himself.


This pick was sent to the Maple Leafs as part of the Phil Kessel trade on July 1, 2015, and was originally a conditional pick. If the Penguins qualified for the 2016 playoffs, the Maple Leafs would get the Penguins' first-rounder and the Penguins would get the Maple Leafs’ 2016 second-rounder. Had the Penguins missed the playoffs, the Penguins would have sent a 2017 first-rounder and received a 2017 second-rounder.

The full trade ended up being Kessel, Tyler Biggs, Tim Erixon and a second-round pick to the Penguins, for Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling, and first-round pick in 2016, plus a 2016 third-round pick.

At the time: "We got the best player in the trade right now," Rutherford said. "It usually works out for the team that gets the best player."

"I believe we improved our team," Rutherford continued. "It's hard to score goals in this league. We play a lot of one-goal games and when you can get a pure goal scorer, that's going to give you a better chance to win games."

In hindsight: This one was worth it. The Penguins went on to win two consecutive Stanley Cups, and you can't argue with that. The Penguins got better, and Kessel was a huge part of that. Even if Kessel is on his way out now, the Penguins already got what they needed out of this trade.

The Penguins also took Kasper Bjorkqvist with the pick acquired from the Maple Leafs in this trade, and he's currently one of the top forward prospects in the organization.


On Jan. 2, 2015, the Penguins traded Rob Klinkhammer and their 2015 first-round pick to the Oilers in exchange for David Perron.

At the time: "Perron is only 26," said Rutherford. "He's coming into the prime of his career. As long the contract works out long-term and he fits here, he could be a good player here for a good six to seven years."

In hindsight: Perron never lived up to expectations, he was never the goal-scorer the Penguins needed him to be. He was traded to the Ducks the following season along with Adam Clendening for Carl Hagelin.

The original trade with the Oilers, on its own, didn't end up being a great move, and was a pretty bad way to lose a first-round pick. Rutherford flipping Perron for Hagelin makes it worth it in the end, though.


Kapanen is the most recent Penguins first-round selection,

At the time: “Where we could, we wanted to make sure we took a forward unless there was a significant gap in talent level between a forward and another skater," said then-co-director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton. "So we did that. But we accomplished what we set out to do, so everybody is obviously delighted. ... “We were thrilled when (Kapanen) finally got (to 22nd overall). We were a little anxious for him to get there. We were delighted that he got to us.”

In hindsight: Kapanen didn't stick around long. He returned to the top Finnish men's league in 2014-15, and joined Wilkes-Barre for four regular season games and seven playoff games that spring. On July 1, Kapanen was flipped to the Maple Leafs as part of the Kessel trade. The Penguins won the next two Stanley Cups. You couldn't have asked for much more out of that trade.

2018-19 was Kapanen's first full season in the NHL, and he scored 20 goals and 24 assists in 78 games with the Maple Leafs. He's a good player and he'll be a good player for years. But the Penguins were in win-now mode when they traded him. They couldn't wait for him to develop.


The Penguins traded a 2013 first-round pick and prospects Kenny Agostino and Ben Hanowski to the Flames in exchange for Jarome Iginla.

At the time: "The first-round pick was very important to (the Flames)," Ray Shero said. "They ended up with two good college prospects. That’s the price of Jarome Iginla. That’s what you have to do. That’s what we did."

In hindsight: The Penguins utilized Iginla on the left side — his off-wing – and were eventually swept out of the Eastern Conference Final in 2013, with Iginla demoted to the third-line in the final series. Iginla never looked comfortable on the left wing.

"I was open to trying it and trying to be effective and help out on the left side," Iginla later said. "I probably do feel more comfortable on the right side."

Iginla signed with the Bruins in the offseason. Agostino has bounced back-and-forth between the AHL and NHL since the trade, and played in 63 NHL games in 2018-19 split between the Canadiens and Devils. Hanowski played in 16 NHL games and 111 AHL games between the trade and the 2014-15 season. He's been in the top German men's league for the past four seasons.

This one was a bust.


2012 was the first year the Penguins had multiple picks in the first round since 1984. The Penguins acquired the No. 8 overall pick from the Hurricanes, along with Brandon Sutter and defenseman Brian Dumoulin in exchange for Jordan Staal.

At the time: "There are very few kids in the draft that had better hockey sense and vision than Pouliot.” -- Former NHL scout Kyle Woodlief 

In hindsight: Pouliot didn't end up working out in Pittsburgh and was traded to the Canucks in 2017 for defenseman Andrey Pedan. Pedan played a season in Wilkes-Barre before returning to Russia. The Pouliot experiment didn't quite work in Vancouver either, as the Canucks won't be re-signing Pouliot, who is a restricted free agent this summer.

As far as the trade that acquired that No. 8 pick, it still worked out pretty well for the Penguins. Dumoulin is a top-pairing defenseman, and Sutter was traded for Nick Bonino.

The Penguins passed on Filip Forsberg, taken three picks later.


The Penguins took Maatta No. 22 overall in 2012. He's their most recent first-round selection who is still in the organization.

At the time: "First and foremost, he’s a decent-sized kid," said London Knights assistant general manager and coach Misha Donskov. "He’s got great hockey sense and he sees the ice very well, and he’s a very disciplined and focused player. I think for him he needs to work on his skating and his shot. If you put all those things together along with his work ethic, then you’ve got a kid with a heck of a lot of upside."

In hindsight: Maatta has been an integral part of the Penguins defense for six seasons, including two Stanley Cup championships. Looking at the players taken after Maatta in the first round in 2012, the Penguins really couldn't have done much better. The players selected after No. 22 who are now NHL regulars are Mike MathesonMalcolm SubbanBrady Skjei, and Tanner Pearson.


The Penguins selected defenseman Joe Morrow with the No. 23 overall pick.

At the time: "It’s amazing how strong he is. He has so much power in his legs and upper body, and his leg strength is a big part of his explosive skating, as well as his big shot.” – Winterhawks Director of Hockey Operations Matt Bardsley

"He reminds me of Denis Potvin, without the mean streak … with his offensive skills and the way he plays the game. He’s a first-pairing guy in Portland and he’ll be an NHL player someday.” -- Central Scouting Bureau’s Rick Jackson

In hindsight: Morrow appeared in just 57 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before the Penguins traded him to the Stars for rental Brenden Morrow in 2013. The Penguins got swept in the Eastern Conference Final that year. Joe Morrow has since played in 162 NHL games with the Bruins, Canadiens and Jets.

Vladislav Namestnikov, taken four picks later, would have been a better use of this pick.


The Penguins drafted forward Beau Bennett with the No. 20 overall pick.

At the time: "I bring some creativity to the game, and I can create off the right side or the left side. I need to work on some things as well, on my defensive play and my strength. I think (in college), I'll get better on both aspects." — Bennett

In hindsight: Bennett could never stay healthy in Pittsburgh. He was traded to the Devils as a pending restricted free agent during the 2016 draft in exchange for a third-round pick. The Penguins took Connor Hall with that pick, who was never signed after suffering recurring shoulder injuries.

Bennett spent the 2016-17 season with the Devils. He signed with the Blues the following season, and spent all but six games in the AHL. He signed in the KHL for the 2018-19 season, but was released after five games and hasn't played anywhere since.

Riley SheahanKevin HayesCharlie CoyleBrock Nelson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were all taken in the first round after Bennett.


The Penguins drafted defenseman Simon Despres with the No. 30 overall pick in 2009.

At the time: "I think the things that jump out at you right away were just his size and his skating ability. Then at a young age, he was playing a very big role for the Saint John team. You talk to him off the ice and he’s a big man, but has a quiet personality and seems to be very driven. That’s what we’ve liked about him right off the bat." --  then-assistant general manager Jason Botterill

In hindsight: Despres played in more of a depth role during his time in the organization. He never had the offensive production the Penguins would have liked to see from him. He became more of a regular in the lineup and a reliable puck-moving defenseman in the 2014-15 season.

The Penguins, looking to add more experience to their blue line, traded Despres to the Ducks at the 2015 trade deadline to re-acquire Ben Lovejoy. Despres suffered a concussion at the start of the 2015-16 season that caused him to miss 42 games and never fully recovered. He played one game in 2016-17, before being shut down for the remainder of the season. The Ducks bought out his contract. Despres played 44 games in the KHL in the 2017-18 season. He played five games with the Canadiens' AHL affiliate Laval Rocket on a tryout deal in 2018-19, but rejected the full AHL-level contract offered to him and played the remainder of the season in the German DEL.

Ryan O'Reilly was drafted three picks after Despres, in the second round.


The Penguins traded their 2008 first-round pick, Colby ArmstrongErik Christensen, and Angelo Esposito to the Thrashers in exchange for Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis.

At the time: "We've always had a hard time finding that fit for Sid, and I believe Marian is a guy who can think at that level, skate at that level and, obviously, he can score goals and kill penalties and raise everybody else's game," said Shero.

Hossa was the target. Dupuis was the throw-in.

In hindsight: The Penguins lost in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, and Hossa left for the Red Wings the following offseason, because he felt as if he "would have a little better of a chance to win the Cup in Detroit."

Dupuis and the Penguins won the Stanley Cup the following year.

Hossa didn't end up being the long-term fit for Crosby's line, but Dupuis, once an afterthought, eventually was.

This trade was a good use of the first-round pick, and not because of anything having to do with the main piece.


The Penguins drafted center Esposito with the No. 20 overall pick in 2007.

At the time: "He’s one more good player," Shero said of Esposito. "It’s no different than last year when we drafted Jordan Staal. Like I said last year, good players like to play with good players. He has great speed. He’s going to be a real good player.

“We’re not sure why he slipped that far, but from our standpoint we don’t care because we really like the player. We had him very high on our list. So much so that we didn’t have a nameplate for him because we didn’t think he’d be there at No. 20. That’s great.

“I think he’s a wonderful pick. With a kid like him who has had so much pressure and all the expectations. I think, coming into our environment, we have a lot of guys who can take that pressure off him. So, I think he’ll, like a Jordan Staal, fly under the radar a bit and be able to settle in and be around some good other young players. I think it’ll be good for him.”

In hindsight: The Penguins traded Esposito to the Thrashers in the Hossa/Dupuis trade before he ever played a professional game. He tore the ACL in his right knee twice early in his career and never made it to the NHL. He bounced around in the AHL (and a short stint in the ECHL) until 2012, when he left for Europe. He played in Finland, Italy, and finally the Czech Republic. He retired during the 2016-17 season after suffering the fourth concussion of his career.

"It is a disappointment that I never played in the NHL and I have to live with that for the rest of my life," Esposito told Sporting News in 2018. "But if I keep looking back and pondering upon it, then I'm going to be miserable my whole life. I learned to move forward, at 28 years old there's so much more in life than just hockey."

Riley NashMax Pacioretty, Mikael BacklundPerron, and Brendan Smith were all taken in the first round after Esposito.


Staal was the No. 2 overall pick in 2006.

At the time: “We want to build a good organization on and off the ice," said Shero. "We have these pieces in place. I want to have good people around me and good people on the ice. We’re going to make good personnel decisions. I want this organization to be about more than just one or two or three players. I want it to be about a team concept, and we’re looking forward to having Jordan with us for a long time and winning the Stanley Cup together.”

In hindsight: Staal was a Penguin for six years, and he did win that Stanley Cup with the Penguins. He ranks No. 22 all-time in goals-scored for the Penguins with 120, and No. 25 all-time in games-played with 431. He was the best third-line center in the league. But there was no way for him to really grow. He was always going to be behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the depth chart.

Staal had a year remaining on his contract when he turned down a 10-year, $60 million contract extension. The Penguins traded him to the Hurricanes during the 2012 draft (which also happened to be Staal's wedding day).

Staal has now been a Hurricane longer than he was a Penguin, and ranks No. 10 all-time in points (262), No. 11 in assists (165) and No. 10 in goals (97) in 462 games over seven seasons in Carolina.


The Penguins took Crosby with the No. 1 pick in 2005, after winning a league-wide draft lottery following the lockout year.

At the time: "He creates a lot of excitement," said Mario Lemieux. "He has all the tools to be a great player. He sees the ice well, he's a great skater. He says he needs to work on his shot, but it looks pretty good to me."

"I think he's a fantastic fit," then-general manager Craig Patrick said of Crosby. "To be able to add someone of Sidney's talent, my mind goes round and round with possibilities."

In hindsight: Any scouting report or predictions from 2005 don't come close to capturing what Crosby has actually meant to this team:

[caption id="attachment_840008" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Sidney Crosby in 2009. 2016, and 2017. -- AP PHOTO[/caption]


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