6 Penguins Draft Picks That Didn’t Work Out in Pittsburgh

Every team has them. Players they took in a draft but went on to have success in other cities. Maybe the original team didn’t think the player was good enough, or they figured they could get a better return in a trade. Or maybe, they just let the rookie contract run out, and another team swooped in. Either way, these players are castoffs who went on to have stellar NHL careers with other teams.

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are no stranger to this dilemma. Over the years, the organization has had plenty of talented players who just couldn’t find their groove in Pittsburgh. In other towns with different teams, these players would flourish into something special.

Calen Addison (2018)

Let’s start with the most recent selections and work backwards in team history. First off is Calen Addison. A player that is yet to make a big impact in the NHL, but will soon enough make noise as a regular blueliner with the Minnesota Wild. He helped the Canadian World Junior team win gold in 2020 while picking up the most assists by a defenseman in the entire tournament.

Calen Addison Minnesota Wild
Calen Addison, Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A second-round (53rd overall) pick in 2018, Addison has all kinds of room to grow with the Wild. The Penguins traded Addison away along with a first-round pick in Feb. 2020 for Jason Zucker. At the time, 19-year-old Addison was a top prospect in the Penguins organization, and now he sits in the same position in Minnesota; A top prospect who is a key piece to a young Wild team that should soon be contending for a Stanley Cup.

Filip Gustavsson (2016)

Much like Addison, Fillip Gustavsson is another player who just got his feet wet in the NHL this past season and has a bright future ahead. A second round (55th overall) pick in the 2016 Draft, Gustavsson played in 19 career NHL games and could be in the fight for the future of Ottawa Senators goaltending, ironically, with Matt Murray.

Filip Gustavsson Ottawa Senators
Filip Gustavsson, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After being drafted by the Penguins in 2016, Gustavsson helped backstop the Swedish World Junior team to a silver medal in 2018. During the tournament, he posted a 1.81 goals-against average (GAA) and .924 save percentage (SV%). Since graduating to the NHL during the 2020-21 season, his numbers have been pretty similar.

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With the Senators, Gustavsson has started his career with an 8-7-3 record with a 2.97 GAA and a .913 SV%. Ottawa would be wrong to not keep giving him chances. Given the Penguins’ recent luck in net, they sure could use a guy like him to fall back on.

Jake Muzzin (2007)

Jake Muzzin’s story to the NHL is an interesting one. A long tale that saw two NHL Drafts but would ultimately lead to a pair of Stanley Cup victories in Los Angeles.

In 2007, after only playing 50 games in the OHL with the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, the Penguins picked Muzzin in the fifth round, 141st overall. The Penguins decided not to sign him, and in 2009, he re-entered for the Draft. No one called his name, and he went undrafted, returning to the OHL for an overage year.

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Muzzin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In 2010, Muzzin finally got his shot at the NHL, signing a contract with the Los Angeles Kings. He bounced back and forth between the Kings and their AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, for a pair of seasons. He was called up, but healthy scratched, for the Kings 2012 Stanley Cup run. The following year, he was a regular in the lineup and became a key defender in their trip to winning the Cup in 2014.

The Penguins may have drafted Muzzin, but they didn’t give him the look he deserved. Two rings and 658 games played later, now with a young and talented Toronto Maple Leafs team, surely he is doing fine.

Matt Moulson (2003)

Hear me out, Matt Moulson may not have had an elite career, but he collected three straight 30-goal seasons with the New York Islanders. That’s more than he did in the Penguins organization. To be frank, Moulson did about as much in the Penguins’ organization as Muzzin did.

Matt Moulson, Buffalo Sabres
Matt Moulson with the Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Penguins took a flyer on Moulson in the ninth round (263rd overall) of the 2003 NHL Draft but went unsigned as he returned to play college hockey with Cornell. He graduated in 2006 before, like Muzzin, signing with the Kings prior to the start of the 2006-07 season.

During the 2009 offseason, Moulson signed a contract with the Islanders, where he went on to have the three best seasons of his career. From 2009 to 2012 on Long Island, he scored 30, 31, and 36 goals, respectively. He later played for the Wild and Buffalo Sabres playing in 650 career NHL games with 369 points. Currently, he is still playing in the AHL, serving as captain of the Hershey Bears.

Patrick Lalime (1993)

Fun fact: Of all goaltenders drafted by the Penguins, Patrick Lalime ranks third in career wins. Only 21 of them came in a Pittsburgh sweater. Drafted in the sixth round (156th overall) in the 1993 Draft, the Penguins figured a single season was enough of Lalime.

Patrick Lalime Ottawa Senators
Patrick Lalime, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

During his rookie season with Pittsburgh in 1996-97, Lalime played in 39 games accruing a record of 21-12-2 with a .913 SV%. Good enough to be named to the NHL All-Rookie Team and finish fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. In March of 1998, the Penguins traded Lalime to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for Chris Pronger’s brother, Sean. A one-for-one deal. Sean Pronger played seven games with the Penguins. Woof.

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Lalime, meanwhile, eventually worked his way to Ottawa, where he began a solid five-year run in net. With the Sens, he reached a record of 146-100-30 with a .908 SV%. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues prior to the 2004-05 lockout, and that was the beginning of the end. From 2005 to 2011, he only won 33 games with 62 losses and 16 overtime losses.

Sure, Lalime’s career ended with a whimper, but in his prime, he fought to be in the argument as the Senators’ top franchise goalie.

Markus Naslund (1991)

Here it is, the big one. Every good Pens fan will know the complete mishandling of Markus Naslund in Pittsburgh. Taken in the first round (16th overall) of the 1991 Draft, the Penguins had a player who would turn into a captain and top-5 franchise player. It just didn’t happen in Pittsburgh.

Maybe Naslund’s career got off to a slow start; His rookie season, he saw 71 games but could only muster four goals and seven assists. His sophomore season held 14 games with a pair of goals and assists for four points. His third year, however, is when things started to turn around. 

In 66 games to start the 1995-96 season, Naslund scored 19 goals and 33 assists for 52 points. That would be it for him in Pittsburgh, as in March of 1996, the Penguins traded him to the Vancouver Canucks for Alek Stojanov. Another one-for-one. Stojanov played 42 games and had six points in Pittsburgh. Naslund went on be a three-time All-Star, post multiple 40-goal seasons, and play over 1,100 games in the NHL. He ranks second in all-time Canucks goals and third in points.

In many hockey circles, the deal that sent Naslund to Vancouver is looked at as one of the worst, most lopsided trades in NHL history. It’s a fair assessment given the paths Naslund and Stojanov would take following the deal.

Honorable Mentions

Michal Rozsival: Fourth round, 105th overall, 1996
PIT stats: 237 games, 18 goals, 47 assists
Career totals: 963 games, 68 goals, 241 assists, two Stanley Cups with Chicago Blackhawks

Craig Simpson: First round, 2nd overall, 1985
PIT stats: 169 games, 50 goals, 55 assists
Career stats: 634 games, 247 goals, 250 assists, two Stanley Cups with Edmonton Oilers

Gord Lane: Ninth round, 134th overall, 1973
PIT stats: 0 games, 0 goals, 0 assists
Career stats: 539 games, 19 goals, 94 assists, four Stanley Cups with New York Islanders

Do any of these players make a difference in the grand scheme of Penguins’ history? It’s hard to say given the organization’s issues with bankruptcy and great players not staying long. Could they have helped the team win? Certainly, but the Penguins have found ways to win and bring in other talented players throughout the years.

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