Penguins’ Draft Creates Identity Crisis

The Pittsburgh Penguins may have created a paradigm shift in the NHL with a non-traditional approach to their lineup. Three lethal scoring lines brought wave after wave of offensive attack. While smooth skating, puck moving defensemen neutralized opposing forecheckers by getting to the puck first, and executing quick zone exits. The defense was also a huge part of the offense as the blueliners would join the rush and create scoring opportunities. It is a team built on speed and skill.

So it makes sense to draft stay-at-home defenders who are known for their grit and physicality, right?

This is not to say that defensemen Connor Hall and Ryan Jones will turn out to be bad players, they are simply disappointing selections because their skills go completely against what made the Penguins unique. Both defenders were billed as having a primary focus on grit, physical play, and lots of penalty minutes. The word “edge” has been thrown around quite a bit as a missing part of the team. I think the team did quite well without the so-called “grit” and “edge”. The scouts later touted both player’s skating ability. But it seemed forced, like they were trying to convince themselves of the picks as much as everyone else.

Return for Beau Bennett

Typically, nobody would be that concerned about a pair of mid-round picks. But this year every pick is amplified as the team has no first-round pick…again. Not to mention the fact that Hall was drafted with the pick acquired for Beau Bennett. All jokes aside about Bennett, watching a former first-round pick that never realized his potential get moved for an asset that does not appear to benefit the team is a hard pill to swallow.

No, I have never seen either of these players in action. Yes, we could be judging them based on a small portion of their scouting report. But the fact that the first, and most touted information on that scouting report is about their physicality? Hall was suspended for 10 games for a hit to the head. He missed time last season with a broken jaw as a result of a fight. Jones was described as a player with “real edge”. Isnt this the style that the Penguins were trying to get away from?

The Old vs The New

Pittsburgh felt like a trendsetter. Like a team that was going to lead the NHL into a new age of skill to rival that of the NBA. While these picks don’t signal a change in their current philosophy, it does show that old habits die hard. The new defenders may have some skating ability, but if that was the biggest park of their skill set, that is what we would all be talking about. Hockey will always be a physical sport, and it should be. But that is not what made the Penguins the Stanley Cup champions. Speed, skill, offense, and goal scoring are the way of the future. Why cling to the old ways? I hope Hall, Jones, and the rest of the Penguins’ picks are exceptional players one day. Time will tell.

During drafts with a full slate of picks, maybe they can afford to take players that do not necessarily fit their mold. But not right now. Not with a farm system that desperately needs an infusion of talent. Until Hall and Jones prove themselves otherwise, this draft class will be viewed by many as a bust before they get started. I like the picks of goaltender Filip Gustavsson and forward Kasper Bjorkqvist, but the earliest picks on the blueline seem to call the entire draft strategy into question.

Until next time.