NHL Draft: Ray Shero's past and future picks

Ray Shero has overseen six drafts since succeeding Craig Patrick as general manager of the Penguins.

During that time, his team has selected 35 prospects.

All but 34 have established themselves as regulars in the NHL.

And, coincidentally or otherwise, those are the 34 guys the Penguins have chosen most recently.

Shero's first pick, center Jordan Staal, is the only exception.

Shero grabbed Staal with the second overall selection in 2006 and Staal, one of the game's finest two-way centers, has been an integral part of all the Penguins have achieved since he broke into the league that fall.

Still, even in a league in which young players routinely need several more winters in major-junior and/or minor-league hockey to develop after they've been drafted, a success rate of 1 for 35 could be viewed as evidence that the Penguins' drafting under Shero has been an abject flop.

Or worse.

Except that there also are data showing that since Shero began calling the shots, the Penguins have accumulated a bounty of promising young defensemen, one of the most precious commodities in the game.

A number of those -- the headliners at the moment are Simon Despres, Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo -- are poised to challenge for spots on the NHL roster in 2012-13.

That's part of the reason Shero will have the latitude to reshape his blue-line corps -- and perhaps reinforce other areas of need in his lineup -- by trading away some of established defensemen during this offseason, if he is so inclined.

And Despres, Strait and Bortuzzo aren't the only young defensemen on his depth chart who seem to have considerable promise. Joseph Morrow, their No. 1 choice last June, is considered by many to be the organization's top prospect, and Scott Harrington, the second-rounder in 2011, is extremely well-regarded.

Add Alex Grant, Philip Samuelsson and Reid McNeill to the mix and even if some of the Penguins' defense prospects plateau and flame out, the organization still might be close to having enough NHL-caliber defensemen to man two units.

Whether they will add to that group with the No. 22 selection in Round 1 of the 2012 draft Friday night at Consol Energy Center is impossible to predict, because the Penguins adhere to a best-prospect-available policy.

As with most -- if not all -- teams, the Penguins under Shero do not draft to fill immediate needs in their major-league lineup, because so few prospects are NHL-ready at age 17 or 18. Clubs, especially those that see themselves as Stanley Cup contenders, generally try to plug voids via trades or free agency rather than waiting for a teenager to grow into the job.

Aside from the second overall selection used to claim Staal, the earliest choice the Penguins have owned during Shero's tenure was No. 20, which they've had twice. Those were used on forwards Angelo Esposito in 2007 and Beau Bennett in 2010.

Esposito, who had once been viewed as a potential franchise player and almost certain first-overall selection, plunged through the prospect ratings during the 2006-07 season, and had achieved almost radioactive status when the Penguins decided his potential was too great to pass on.

It didn't take long for them to rethink that assessment, though, and Shero included him in the package sent to Atlanta for wingers Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis less than a year later.

Bennett, conversely, remains very much in the Penguins' plans. He turned pro a few months ago after completing two injury-plagued seasons at Denver University, and looks to be the franchise's best hope for a homegrown goal-scoring winger.

Although the Penguins have invested three of the five No. 1 choices they've used during Shero's tenure -- their first-rounder in 2008 was shipped to the Thrashers in the Hossa/Dupuis deal -- on forwards, they don't have many high-impact centers and wingers in the developmental pipeline.

Bennett and Tom Kuhnhackl, a fourth-rounder in 2010, show genuine promise and some others look like they might eventually fill roles in the NHL, but the Penguins have dealt with their up-front personnel issues via trades and free agency in recent years.

They also have been forced to go those routes to find Marc-Andre Fleury's goaltending partner. The Penguins have drafted three goalies -- Alexander Pechurskiy, Chad Johnson and Patrick Killeen -- during Shero's time in charge.

Pechurskiy is the only one to appear in a Penguins game, and that was as an emergency backup.

Clearly, drafting and developing a goalie to complement, or perhaps eventually replace, Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't been a priority. The Penguins have not taken one before Round 5 and have not claimed any in the past three years.

Pechurskiy's position isn't the only noteworthy thing about him. He is Russian and, whether by design or because of circumstances, the Penguins have picked just three Europeans since taking Pechurskiy in the fifth round in 2008.

The two forwards they've drafted, Kuhnhackl (Germany) and the Czech Republic's Dominik Uher, played major-junior hockey in North America. Swedish defenseman Viktor Ekbom wasn't given a contract.

Regardless of where they come from, Shero views the players the Penguins select -- as well as the team's still-unused draft choices -- as assets, and he hasn't been shy about dealing either.

He has traded 10 choices in the past five drafts -- that doesn't include the 2012 seventh-rounder recently given to Washington for the rights to goalie Tomas Vokoun -- along with three players (Esposito, Johnson and Luca Caputi) taken on his watch.

One of the primary subplots in the days leading to the draft will be how aggressively Shero moves to make trades, whether the deals involve picks, prospects, players or all of the above.

This much, though is certain: What Shero and his staff do with the choices they have Friday and Saturday will help to shape the franchise for years to come.

Just as the picks and deals from his first half-dozen years in charge have.


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published June 17, 2012 4:00 AM


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