The Pittsburgh Penguins are notorious for their high-round picks and late-round steals; however, along with those players come some additional draft picks that never pan out. The team has received their fair share of those over the last 20 years, so I’ve decided to go over them and give you the five worst picks they have made since the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
5. Beau Bennett (First Round, 20th Overall in 2010)
When you look back on the career of Bennett, it’s sad to see how quickly in spiraled down hill, and it wasn’t even because he wasn’t good enough. He just could not find a way to stay healthy consistently, as he found ways to get injured in practice, games, or even goal celebrations.
Bennett was drafted out of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), where he had 41 goals and 120 points through 56 games with the Penticton Vees before heading to the University of Denver for two seasons, where he put up 13 goals and 38 points in 47 games. All was looking well in his development, and this continued in his first professional season, where he put up seven goals and 28 points in 39 games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the American Hockey League (AHL), but everything changed in the NHL.
In Bennett’s rookie season in the NHL, he had three goals and 14 points along with a 6.4 goals above replacement (GAR) through 26 games. Then, the injuries began. After his rookie season, Bennett was never able to suit up for more than 49 games in a single campaign with the Penguins, and his production was very low, so the team shipped him off to the New Jersey Devils for a third-round pick after their Stanley Cup win in 2016.
Bennett had stints with the Devils and St. Louis Blues, went to Russia to play in the KHL, and then signed with the Arizona Coyotes in 2019-20, but was limited to their AHL club in Tucson for the entirety of the season. He is currently not signed by a team at 29 years old. Whether you want to blame lack of drive or injuries, this was a pick that looked very promising for the Penguins for quite some time, but never panned out.
4. Johannes Salmonsson (Second Round, 31st Overall in 2004)
While Salmonsson wasn’t a first-round draft choice like Bennett, he was drafted just 11 spots below and doesn’t have the excuse of injuries for not panning out. He just never did, despite being one of the most highly touted Swedish players in the entire draft.
Salmonsson had zero goals and three points in 25 games with Djurgardens IF Stockholm in the SEL during his draft year. He was drafted due to his resilience, hard-working attitude, and great skating, but it obviously never panned out outside of Europe. The 6-foot-2, 207-pound winger never made it to North America, leaving the Penguins puzzled by his development.
Salmonsson has spent the last 17 years split between the Swiss-A, SHL (formerly SEL), and DEL. He is currently playing with Oskarshamn IK of the SHL, and has four goals and 11 points in 27 games. He never played a single game in the NHL.
3. Joseph Morrow (First Round, 23rd Overall in 2011)
When the Penguins drafted Morrow with the 23rd-overall pick in 2011, they were hoping for a future left-shot defenseman who could play in the top-four, potentially next to Kristopher Letang. In his draft year, he had nine goals and 49 points in 60 games with the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League (WHL), and was even better the year after, with 17 goals and 64 points in 62 games.
The Penguins ended up moving Morrow as a piece to the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward Brandon Morrow, and a 2013 third-round pick (which ended up being Jake Guentzel, by the way). Despite producing at every level, he could never find his game in the NHL, and played for various different organizations, including the Stars, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Winnipeg Jets and Devils.
Today, Morrow plays in the LIIGA with Assat Pori, where he has 11 points through 29 games. It is obvious the talent is there with Morrow, as he never had trouble producing until he got to the NHL. However, it appears as though he could never adjust his game in the main league, which cost him a spot.
2. Derrick Pouliot (First Round, 8th Overall in 2012)
Pouliot, like Morrow, also had very high hopes from the Penguins fanbase, who believed he could be a key piece to their future blue line when he was drafted eighth overall in 2012. He had 11 goals and 59 points in 72 games with the Winterhawks in his draft year, and nine goals, 45 points through 44 games the following year. He had drawn comparisons to Letang in terms of playstyle, as a physical yet offensive defenseman.
Pouliot actually got a chance to prove himself in the NHL many times, and won two Stanley Cup championships, but he was not a regular piece to the lineup in either win. He played 67 games in Pittsburgh, amounting to two goals and 14 points while being a complete defensive liability, and was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for defenseman Andrey Pedan and a 2018 fourth-round pick.
Pouliot slightly found his game in his first season with the Canucks, with three goals and 22 points in 71 games, but the year after he tallied just 12 points in 62 games, and was left to walk and go to the Blues in free agency. Since then, he has been in and out of the NHL, and is currently part of the Philadelphia Flyers organization, spending the entire season with the Leigh Valley Phantoms of the AHL.
When pieces like Filip Forsberg, Tomas Hertl, Teuvo Teravainen, Tom Wilson, Colton Parayko and Jaccob Slavin fell later than Pouliot, it hurts to think about what could have been if the Penguins went a different route.
1. Angelo Esposito (First Round, 20th Overall in 2007)
The selection of Esposito is one that will absolutely haunt Penguins fans. The Montreal-born centreman was once slotted to go first overall in the 2007 draft class after a tremendous 39 goals, 98 points in 57 games campaign during the 2005-06 season with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). After a slight decline, but still amazing 27 goals, 79 points in 60 games, Esposito fell to eighth in most draft rankings, and to 20th overall in the actual draft.
Esposito was moved to the Atlanta Thrashers along with Erik Christensen, Colby Armstrong and a 2008 first-round pick for Pascal Dupuis and Marian Hossa just a year after being drafted. He spent time in the AHL and ECHL for five years before finally leaving North America. He had stints in Finland, Italy and Austria before retiring in 2016 after putting up 15 goals and 38 points in 31 games with Cortina SG in the Serie A (now in the Alps Hockey League). Just nine years after being a projected first-overall pick, he was retiring in a low-end league in Europe.
Esposito pursued careers in real estate investment and politics, running for the Conservative party in Laval back in 2019, and has been seemingly done with hockey for a while.
Like Pouliot, it is weird to think about what could have happened if the Penguins took a different route, with players like Max Pacioretty, David Perron and P.K. Subban just picks below in the draft.
It is just so hard to predict prospects, with guys like Esposito and Pouliot, who were highly touted prospects, becoming worse than guys like Guentzel and Letang, who weren’t even chosen in the first round is insane, and it is all about development. While the Penguins have made some bad picks, they have also had their fair share of draft steals who helped propel them to multiple Stanley Cup championships, so it hasn’t been all bad.