Uncertainty clouds what Penguins will do in first round of NHL draft

PHILADELPHIA -- The Penguins are scheduled to make the 22nd selection in Round 1 of the NHL draft at the Wells Fargo Center.

Whether that actually will happen tonight is hard to say because general manager Jim Rutherford has not ruled out making a trade that would include his team's first-round pick.

Perhaps it's fitting that the Penguins aren't certain that they'll hold onto that choice because they also aren't sure what they'll get with it if they do.

Rutherford has gone on record as saying that he'd like to land a forward in Round 1, but prospect rankings for this draft vary so wildly from team to team that it's impossible to predict who might go much earlier than a lot of clubs anticipate.

Conversely, it's conceivable that a prospect who seems likely to go in the top 10 could slide all the way to the Penguins' spot.

This shapes up as one draft in which the cliche about a team's scouts and executives not being able to believe that a particular player still was available when it was their turn to pick actually could be true.

"It will be the kind of draft where a lot of teams come away happy with the player they got because there's going to be a lot of fluctuation and a lot of different evaluations of players," associate general manager Jason Botterill said.

There are a few high-end prospects -- guys like defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forwards Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett and Leon Draisaitl -- who are sure to be gone long before the Penguins turn.

Still, if they plan to present their first-rounder with a sweater bearing his nameplate, the Penguins likely should have about 10 of them made up in advance to cover all the possibilities.

"I would love to tell you it's two or three guys [who are likely choices for the Penguins], but you just have no clue how the draft is going to play out," Botterill said.

"I try to predict what the other 21 teams are going to be doing and how they're going to select, and that's a futile endeavor."

The 2015 draft will include two prospects, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, widely regarded as potential franchise players. No one available this weekend has a similar pedigree.

"Overall, maybe there's not the high-end, elite players," Botterill said. "But it's like any draft, there are going to be some very good players out there, for sure."

Barring a trade, the Penguins will not have a choice in Rounds 2 and 3, so just how much they'll be able to bolster their depth chart in this draft is conjecture.

This is a good year, however, to be focusing on forwards because the prevailing wisdom is that there are more quality centers and wingers than there are defensemen or goalies.

Rutherford, who replaced Ray Shero as general manager three weeks ago, will be running the Penguins draft table for the first time.

That doesn't mean he will do it much differently than Shero because he, like Shero, plans to defer to the scouts who have evaluated players all winter rather than imposing his opinions on them.

"The role I have played [with Carolina] and will play [this weekend] is more listening to what everybody has to say to make sure the right people make the right decisions," he said.

Rutherford said he could get involved if there are conflicting opinions among his scouts about which of two guys who play different positions should be selected, but there generally are few significant disagreements at draft tables.

That's because the prospect-ranking list from which the Penguins will work was put together a while ago by the amateur scouting staff.

"The arguing and debate have come at the year-end meetings," Botterill said.

"That's where the strong communication, the strong debates, arise, and that's where you need to have them."


Former NHL forward Travis Green has emerged as the front-runner to become the Penguins' second assistant coach. He worked with new coach Mike Johnston at Portland in the Western Hockey League before taking over as coach of Utica in the American Hockey League. Former Penguins forward Rick Tocchet was named as an assistant coach Wednesday. ... Neil Sheehy, who represents for free-agent-to-be Matt Niskanen, announced on Twitter that Niskanen will explore the open market July 1. Niskanen is expected to be one of the most highly sought defensemen available in free agency.

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.

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