The Penguins didn’t wait for the 2017 entry draft to start remaking the organization’s personnel.
When the Vegas Golden Knights claimed Marc-Andre Fleury, it was the end of an era in Pittsburgh in which Flower (as he was affectionately known to teammates) helped the Pens to three Stanley Cups. The first-overall selection in the 2003 draft and winningest netminder in team history played 13 seasons in Steeltown, second only to Mario Lemieux among NHLers.
The day before the main draft, Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford inked unexpectedly useful (plus-9 in a career-high 34 league games) depth defender Chad Ruhwedel to a two-year extension at an average annual value of $650,000. Rutherford also signed potential bottom-six checking center and PK specialist Frederik Tiffels to a two-year, entry-level deal.
That means Pittsburgh has signed three of its four selections from the 2015 draft, including RW Daniel Sprong (46th overall) and C Dominik Simon (137th overall). Seventh-round pick Nikita Pavlychev will be a sophomore at Penn State.
Pittsburgh also signed G Filip Gustavsson to a three-year, entry-level contract, which begins in the 2018-19 campaign after the 55th overall pick in 2016 plays another season in his native Sweden.
2017 NHL entry draft
Then came June 23 and Round One. Surprisingly, Pittsburgh swapped its 31st-overall pick and improving Swedish center Oskar Sundqvist to the Blues for their second-round pick and RW Ryan Reaves, a 30-year-old vet who is best known for using his 6-1, 225-pound frame to punish opponents. The only logical deduction is that the Penguins do not plan to let Sidney Crosby keep enduring the abuse he took in the playoffs.
So, who did Pittsburgh draft to augment its prospect pool?
Zachary Lauzon highlights:
D Zachary Lauzon, 2nd round, 51st overall: After St. Louis used the final pick of the first round that it got from the Penguins to take Russian winger Klim Kostin, Pittsburgh selected the 6-0, 187-pound blueliner near the end of the second round. In his first full QMJHL campaign, Lauzon played for the Memorial Cup, following that by earning the Kevin Lowe Award as the best defensive defenseman in the league. An effective puck-mover, Lauzon is known as a tremendous skater with great vision, although his offensive ceiling might not be high.
D Clayton Phillips, 3rd round (93rd overall): The 5-10, 180-pounder has been playing for Fargo in the USHL, from where Jake Guentzel’s father Mike scouted him to play for the Gophers at the U of Minnesota, where Mike is an associate coach. Another puck-mover, Phillips is a mobile skater with superior vision.
LW Jan Drozg, 5th round (152nd overall): At 6-0 and 174 pounds, the young Slovenian shone for his country in the B Division at the U-18 and U-20 WJCs, helping Slovenia win a U-18 title by earning best-forward and top-player-on-team honors with a tournament-high eight assists, 13 points and 83.3 per cent faceoff percentage. A late-blooming offensive forward, Drozg is coming to Shawinigan of the QMJHL after playing junior for Leksands in Sweden.
C Linus Ölund, 5th round (155th overall): The 5-11, 185-pounder projects as a bottom-six pro forward after filling that role for Brynas in the Swedish Hockey League, registering eight goals, 15 points and plus-9 in 39 regular-season games in the country’s best hockey league. He impressed the Penguins with 10 points in 20 playoff outings.
D Antti Palojarvi, 6th round (186th overall): Not overly large at 6-1 and 17