Analysis: The failure of Ray Shero and his staff at drafting forwards

The Penguins are stuck in a transition year, relatively speaking. Throw in the unforeseen drop in the salary-cap ceiling and injuries to first-liner Pascal Dupuis, first-round draft pick Beau Bennett, coupled with the scary Kris Letang situation, and the Pens have been faced with a couple serious problems this season:
1. They are without a complete top six.  Brian Gibbons has played over 20 games on Sidney Crosby’s wing. Prior to the Trade Deadline, and possibly in going forward this season, Gibbons is the Penguins’ answer on the top line. Gibbons is currently 401st in the NHL in shots per 60 minutes.
2. They had to waste three draft picks last week to rebuild their bottom two lines. There’s a difference between using draft picks to get a top-6 rent-a-player and using those picks for grinder rent-a-players.
We’ve been trying to figure out why the Pens’ bottom two lines are so horrible, something that’s been documented numerous times in recent weeks by mc79hockey.com and PensBurgh, among others. When faced with that information, people will be quick to point out that the Pens have a top-heavy salary-cap structure: Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Fleury, Orpik, Letang, Martin, Scuderi, Kunitz, and Dupuis are the Pens’ biggest earners, which leaves little money for decent depth players.

What we did

Over last two weeks or so, we’ve examined every draft pick made in the NHL during the Ray Shero era, so that means 2006 to the present. We looked at number of draft picks, drafting tendencies, and the NHL production of those picks. The deeper we delved into the numbers, we began realizing what is going on. Ray Shero and his staff have not been able to draft and develop homegrown talent, especially at the forward position.
Drafting is just one part of being a GM; we know that. Shero has excelled at finding missing pieces in trades, and he hasn’t been too bad at drafting defensemen. But forwards are a different story entirely.

What this post is about

This isn’t about Shero passing on Brandon Saad or debating whether or not Shero should’ve drafted Toews over Staal. Making picks and having them turn into an NHL player is anything but an exact science. But when you have no one in your organization that can fill a void on any line, you have a major problem.
As we were researching, this quote from the MC79hockey article above, was a foundation:
“If the Pens lose in the playoffs, as they probably will, it will probably involve Crosby/Malkin having a few cold games (or Marc-Andre Fleury blowing up). When that happens, people will say “Gee, Malkin/Crosby/Fleury were terrible.” Perhaps they should point out that Pittsburgh is trying to win with an abysmal bottom half of their team, which piles an awful lot of pressure on the other guys.”
The Penguins’ inability to fill the bottom half of the lineup is a direct result of their swings and misses at the draft. The evidence does not lie…

The lingering touch of Craig Patrick

Craig Patrick was fired as Penguins GM on April 20, 2006, but his presence still resonates up and down the Penguins roster. The following players are either directly or indirectly (through trades) related to Craig Patrick.
Sidney Crosby — Craig Patrick draft pick
Evgeni Malkin — Craig Patrick draft pick
Marc-Andre Fleury — Craig Patrick draft pick
Brooks Orpik — Craig Patrick draft pick
Rob Scuderi — Craig Patrick draft pick
Kris Letang — Craig Patrick draft pick
James Neal — Acquired for Alex Goligoski, a Craig Patrick draft pick
Chris Kunitz — Acquired for Ryan Whitney, a Craig Patrick draft pick
Pascal Dupuis — Acquired for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen (both Craig Patrick draft picks), first-rounder Angelo Esposito (Ray Shero’s pick), and Shero’s 2008 first-round pick.
What are we saying here? Any GM in their right mind would’ve taken Crosby and Malkin; we know that. Taking MAF with the #1 overall pick was a gamble, but it still wasn’t a bad decision. Those moves were easy. And, yes, of course Patrick’s stamp would still be all over this franchise. But let’s look at the names we’ve just listed and see how long it took them to “make it” in the NHL:
Rob Scuderi — Taken 134th overall in the 5th round in 1998.
Began seeing significant playing time in 2005. (7 years)
Brooks Orpik — Taken 18th overall in 2000.
Began seeing significant playing time in 2003. (3 years)
Colby Armstrong — 21st overall in 2001.
Significant playing time in 2005. (4 years)
Ryan Whitney — 5th overall in 2002.
Significant playing time in 2005. (3 years)
Erik Christensen — 69th overall in 3rd round in 2002.
Significant playing time in 2005. (3 years)
Alex Goligoski — 61st overall in 2nd round in 2004.
Significant playing time in 2008. (4 years)

And now some other names:

Tyler Kennedy — 99th overall in 4th round in 2004.
Significant playing time in 2007. (3 years)
Max Talbot, hero of Game 7 in Detroit — Craig Patrick drafted him 234th overall in the 8th round in 2002. Significant playing time in 2005. (3 years)
If you weren’t keeping count, that’s 8 players who took an average of 3.7 years to make it to the NHL. As a quick aside, we’ll note that 2013-14 is Ray Shero’s 8th season as General Manager of the Penguins.

The Link

Does the name Matt Moulson ring a bell? Craig Patrick drafted him 263rd overall in the 9th round in 2003. When it came time, Shero decided not to sign Moulson. Moulson started seeing significant playing time in 2007 with the Kings (4 years).
Last week on 2014 Trade Deadline Day, Moulson, now a seven-year NHL veteran with three 30-goal seasons to his name, was one of the biggest names discussed. Moulson is an important link between Patrick and Shero, if only because it shows the mismanagement and lack of development of prospects by Ray Shero and his staff.

Drafting and Developing Leads to winning

Pictured: Joe Vitale is pretty bad.
We’re not saying you’re going to build a Stanley Cup champion around Armstrong, Christensen, Goligoski, Kennedy, and Talbot. But these are serviceable NHL players. Hell, they can skate and shoot the puck. And they are also more often than not the guys that win you the Cup. The most generic thought you could have in the world is like this one from Joe Starkey:

“It will be a matter of building on their evolving commitment to defense and winning the coaching battles in key areas such as matchups and special teams. It will require some depth guys coming through, plus Martin and maybe Bennett returning (Kris Letang seems like way more of a long shot). Mostly, though, the Penguins will need their stars to play like stars when the weather grows warm. It’s been awhile.”

Coaching battles? Beau Bennett? Crosby and Malkin are in the top 11 in playoff production among active NHL players. They are both point-a-game players in the playoffs. They already play like stars. And the depth guys aren’t coming through any time soon.

As a point of reference, out of the last 10 players credited with the game-winning goal in the final game of the Stanley Cup Final, 9 have been drafted. And 7 scored the goal for the team that drafted them.

Player Champion/Finals year  Drafted?
Mike Rupp Devils/2003 Yes – 76th overall by the Devils
Ruslan Fedotenko Lightning/2004 No – Undrafted, broke in with Flyers
Frantisek Kaberle Hurricanes/2006 Yes – 76th overall by the Los Angeles Kings
Travis Moen Ducks/2007 Yes – 155th overall by the Flames
Henrik Zetterberg Wings/2008 Yes – 210 overall by the Red Wings
Maxime Talbot Penguins/2009 Yes – 234th overall by the Penguins
Patrick Kane Blackhawks/2010 Yes – 1st overall by the Blackhawks
Patrice Bergeron Bruins/2011 Yes – 45th overall by the Bruins
Jeff Carter Kings/2012 Yes – 11th overall by the Flyers
Dave Bolland Blackhawks/2013 Yes – 32nd overall by the Blackhawks



The Penguins simply don’t have that

if you’re hard-wired to defend all of Shero’s personnel moves, you’ve already begun telling yourself there is a logjam at the forward position in the Penguins’ system. So let’s go there. Let’s look at the carousel of “grinders” and “role players” that have seen time in a Pens uniform this season, guys that the Pens’ playoff success will really come down to.
Joe Vitale — Taken 195th overall in the 7th round in 2005 by Craig Patrick.
Started seeing significant playing time in 2011. (6 years)
Brian Gibbons — UNDRAFTED
Jayson Megna — UNDRAFTED
Chris Conner — UNDRAFTED
Andrew Ebbett — UNDRAFTED
Tanner Glass — Acquired via free agency
Matt D’Agostini — Acquired via free agency
Nick Drazenovic — Acquired via free agency
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond — Acquired via free agency
Harry Zolnierczyk — Acquired via trade
Taylor Pyatt — Claimed off waivers
Chuck Kobasew — Signed after a professional try-out contract
Dustin Jeffrey — Taken 171st overall in 6th round in 2007 by Ray Shero. Was never allowed to see significant playing time, suffered an injury, and then was released. As we will show you below, Jeffrey has still managed to become Shero’s most productive forward draft pick not named Jordan Staal. The Penguins placed him on waivers earlier this season.

And a couple of pluggers from recent years:

Mark Letestu — UNDRAFTED. Scored 14 goals in 64 games in 2010-11. Traded after 11 games in 2011-2012 to the Blue Jackets for a 4th-round pick used to draft Matia Marcantuoni in 2012. Letestu has scored 21 goals in 129 games for the Blue Jackets.
Tim Wallace — UNDRAFTED. Never scored a goal in 24 games as a Penguin. Currently in some Swedish league.


Here are all of Ray Shero’s picks at the forward position. The stats columns reflect career NHL stats, not just stats amassed while wearing a Penguin uniform.
For comparison’s sake, here are Craig Patrick’s picks from his last 8 years on the job. Stats reflect totals up to his departure in April 2006.
Let’s take a closer look at all of Shero’s draft picks from 2006-2010:
Angelo Esposito — Traded to Atlanta, among others, for Pascal Dupuis and Marian Hossa. Currently plays for the Hockey Milano Rossoblu of the Italian Serie A.
Keven Veilleux — Last we heard, he was using racial slurs during ECHL games. He has landed with HC Banska Bystrica of Slovak Extraliga. Obviously.
Casey Pierro-Zabotel — Pens let him walk, and he currently shoots the hot-dog cannon during intermissions for the Lausitzer Füchse of the DEL2.
Luca Caputi — Traded to Toronto in the Ponikarovsky trade. Currently plays for the vaunted VIK Västerås HK of the Swedish HockeyAllsvenskan.
Nathan Moon — Pens never tended him an offer, and he is now living the dream, playing for the Braehead Clan of the Elite Ice Hockey League. That’s in Scotland.
Nick Petersen — Pens placed him on waivers. He plays for the Schwenninger Wild Wings of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga.
Andy Bathgate — Pens relinquished his rights. He now plays for Königsborner JEC. In case you didn’t know, Der Königsborner Jugend Eishockeyclub (KJEC) ist ein Eishockeyverein in Unna-Königsborn (Nordrhein-Westfalen), der aktuell in der Oberliga West spielt.
Ben Hanowski and Kenneth Agostino — Traded to Calgary for Jarome Iginla.


We asked Tony Androck from Highland Park Hockey to give us an idea who he thinks are the next handful of forwards potentially on the fast track to being NHL-ready. He mentioned Jayson Megna, Adam Payerl, Anton Zlobin, and Dominik Uher.
Jayson Megna — UNDRAFTED
Adam Payerl — UNDRAFTED
Anton Zlobin — Taken 173rd overall in 6th round by Shero in 2012
Dominik Uher — Taken 144th overall in 5th round by Shero in 2011
The point can be made that Shero and his staff are, at the very least, finding able bodies to plug the holes they’ve created in the Pens’ farm system. As soon as you start making that argument, though, you’re already beginning to ignore the lack of development of the Penguins’ own draft picks at the position, which is this article’s main focal point.
And here is where we mention that Wilkes-Barre currently has the 5th-oldest team in the AHL by average age, at 25.5 years.


Pictured: Joe Morrow on Draft Day.
Another prevalent school of thought is that Shero doesn’t have to draft forwards because he drafts defensemen that he can then flip for developed forwards. Let’s look at that theory, too.
3/24/13 — Traded Joe Morrow (Shero’s 23rd overall pick in 2011) and a 2013 5th-round pick to the Stars for Brenden Morrow and a 2013 3rd-round pick. The jury is still out on Joe Morrow’s future. We refuse to speculate either way.
2/6/13 — Traded Ben Lovejoy (undrafted) to the Ducks for a 5th-round pick in 2014.
1/24/13 — Traded Carl Sneep (Shero’s 32nd overall pick in 2006) to the Stars for a conditional draft pick.
2/21/11 — Traded Alex Goligoski (Craig Patrick pick) to Dallas for James Neal and Matt Niskanen.
3/3/10 — Traded Chris Peluso (Craig Patrick pick) to Toronto for their 6th-round pick in 2010, which was used to draft defenseman Joe Rogalski.
2/11/10 — Traded Nate Guenin (acquired via free agency in 2009) to St. Louis for defenseman Steve Wagner. Guenin has played 50 games this season for the Colorado Avalanche and recently signed a two-year extension. Steve Wagner currently plays for Adler Mannheim of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL).
3/4/09 — Traded Danny Richmond to St. Louis for defenseman Andy Wozniewski. Both have moved on to European leagues.
2/26/09 — Traded Ryan Whitney (Craig Patrick pick) to Anaheim for Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi.
2/27/07 — Traded Noah Welch to Florida for Gary Roberts.
Thus far, this strategy seems to be a myth.
The only instance where a Ray Shero-picked defenseman was flipped for forward help was last year in the Morrow for Morrow trade. That didn’t really pan out for the Penguins, and we are reserving judgment on whether or not Joe Morrow will be a presence in the NHL going forward. It should be noted that the Pens soured on his development, and the Stars decided to trade him to Boston 4 months later.
Shero may be able to use the illusion that a high D-man draft pick equals success in order to trade off that player before his development pans out, but we really don’t see him having that luxury in the years ahead. Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi are getting slow and long in the tooth. Paul Martin is 33 years old and will be a free agent in 2015. And if you don’t think there’s uncertainty around Kris Letang going forward, we have a bridge to sell you. While we’re at it, you can pretty much take it to the bank that the Penguins will lock up Matt Niskanen before free agency this summer.
Olli Maatta will probably be a Penguin for life. And the Kris Letang situation may have played a part in Simon Despres not being moved last week at the Trade Deadline. Then you have Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington, and Philip Samuelsson. Combined with free-agency signings, the Pens may be able to move one of those guys in a big splash trade, but they should look at holding on to them.

NHL Production by drafted forwards since 2006

Now we get to some numbers. If you’re still with us, you’ve told yourself numerous times that it takes more than 8 years (Shero’s GM tenure) to judge a GM’s drafting acumen, and we agree. During our research, it was fun looking back at drafts from the late ‘90s and early 2000s and seeing how they’ve panned out.
With that understanding, we still wanted to see the kind of production teams have gotten from their draft picks over the past 8 years. For the chart below, we’ve taken out all first-round draft picks to level the playing field a little bit, because that’s a slippery slope to go down. By that metric, Craig Patrick may be the best GM on the planet. Plus, we didn’t want to go down the road of defining first-round busts and, “Oh, why did Shero draft that guy when he could’ve drafted that guy?” It’s a circle-jerk debate that goes nowhere.
We’ve broken down the team-by-team production in the charts below. Again, the stats reflect players’ NHL totals, not just stats amassed with the team that drafted them.

Here is the spreadsheet used for those charts, with player-by-player breakdowns. It’s definitely worth a look.
— The Rangers have gotten names like Artem Anisimov, Derek Stepan, and Carl Hagelin.
— How about Tommy Wingels with the Sharks? Taken 177th overall in 2008, he was seeing playing time in 2010 and has produced 20 goals and 33 assists in 136 games.
— And look at the Blackhawks. Andrew Shaw was taken 139th overall in 2011. The Hawks also grabbed Pittsburgh-born Brandon Saad at 43 overall in 2011. The Penguins passed on him for Joe Morrow. That happened less than 3 years ago. There are numerous other examples in that spreadsheet of players who are on the upslope in their development, and we’ll be seeing big things from them in the next couple NHL seasons.
As we’ve mentioned, Dustin Jeffrey is Ray Shero’s saving grace in this chart. Without him, the Pens haven’t gotten any help from their deep draft picks. None of those three players (Caputi, Hanowski, Jeffrey) are still with the Pens’ organization, and without the memorable (or unmemorable) Ponikarovsky and Jarome Iginla experiments, the picks have had no lasting impact on the Penguins franchise.
We’re not asking for the world here. We’re not asking for Shero to find Datsyuk and Zetterberg deep in the draft. That’s not our point. Our point is that we want at least one decent player. Our point is that Brendan Gallagher, taken 147th overall by the Habs in 2010, has produced more than all of Shero’s depth picks combined.

The Caputi Line

That chart and data set has some faults, though. It counts any player that played at least one game in the NHL. There are various circumstances that lead to players getting a one-game look, so let’s modify it a bit and establish The Caputi Line. This chart only includes draft picks who have played at least 35 games in the NHL (Caputi’s NHL total), with first-rounders still excluded.

We’re trying to help out Shero and the Pens staff here, but it doesn’t really do much. The numbers don’t deviate much from the previous chart we’ve presented. And If you’ve been hanging on to the argument that Craig Patrick’s depth picks got playing time because the Penguins were so awful before Crosby and Malkin came on the scene, the meager numbers in these charts from the perennial basement dwellers sinks that argument real quick.


We’ll still bite on the idea that Shero and his staff concentrate more on drafting D-men than on drafting forwards due to that “flip D-men for NHL-ready forwards” theory. So we’ve put together one final data set. We looked at drafting tendencies, team by team. Which team has had the most draft picks over the last 8 seasons? Which teams draft more forwards? More defensemen?
This data set now includes every draft pick from every round. And this doesn’t need a chart. The numbers are over in the wasteland on the right of this spreadsheet. And the number below “% of forwards” is the % of each team’s forward picks who played a game in the NHL. Shero & Co. doesn’t do well in that, either.
Shero and his staff have spent 40% of their picks on defensemen, second-most in the NHL behind the Devils, while spending 48% of their picks on forwards, third-least in the NHL behind the Devils and Avalanche. There’s nothing really to grab from this measurement. It’s just presented as an observation. But if the Pens’ organization is having a tough time developing forwards, they may want to spend a couple more picks on that position.


We keep mentioning defensemen, and we also grabbed those drafting stats NHL-wide during the Ray Shero era. We’re included first-round picks, as well. Defensemen traditionally take longer to develop and pan out given the smaller number of roster spots available in the NHL, so it’s unfair to all teams involved to demand returns on the majority of D-man picks from at least 2008 to the present.  Case in point: The Pens’ 2009 1st-round draft pick Simon Despres. He’s got the size and he’s got the pedigree, but it’s still a work in progress.
Given the varying metrics of defining success and production for a defensemen, we didn’t bother putting things into a chart. But here is the spreadsheet with the player-by-player breakdown.
Shero has seen the most of his defensemen play a game in the NHL, and that’s definitely something to talk about. We mentioned it’s imperative that Shero’s first-round defensemen pan out, and there’s no evidence to suggest the current batch in the system (Despres, Maatta, Pouliot) will fail. It appears that Shero missed on his Joe Morrow pick in 2007, though.
The emergence of Jake Muzzin is pretty interesting. Shero drafted him 141st overall in 2007. In 2010, Shero decided not sign him, and the Kings picked him up. Regardless of why Shero decided to let him walk, it still helps Shero’s track record when it comes to drafting defensemen. If he had traded Muzzin for a decent forward, that would be something else to talk about. But he didn’t.


Our point is this. In the last eight years, Ray Shero and his scouts have produced failure after failure in the Draft.  You could even argue that even though he drafted Jordan Staal, that pick should have been Jonathan Toews. But that is another subject for another day.
Vancouver’s drafting has been rough, and they better hope their picks from these last couple seasons will pan out because that franchise’s window has already closed, and it’s not opening again in the near future. This will be the Penguins’ fate five of six years from now if things don’t change. The Sedin brothers are 33 years old. Crosby is 26. Malkin is 27.
We’ve been discussing Rounds 2-7 of the Entry Draft in this post. Statistically, only about 12% of players selected in those rounds go on to play 200 games or more in the NHL, so the odds aren’t good. But we’re just asking for one guy. And we’re not even asking for a draft steal like Matt Moulson. Just someone with NHL talent. And we haven’t seen it yet. If Shero and company find two players in the last eight drafts that can produce on an NHL level, the Penguins wouldn’t have to keep wasting picks to fill holes.
Trading draft picks year after year is like not paying your credit-card bill but still taking out more credit. It is going to catch up to you, and we’re beginning to see it with Ray Shero. Wasting third-round picks on third-line potential rent-a-players just doesn’t seem logical.
This isn’t a takeout piece. Everything we’ve laid out has been factual. Last we checked, drafting and developing players is a very large part of being a GM. Shero and the scouting department haven’t figured it out yet.
If you can’t see that, maybe it’s time to unfollow the Penguins Twitter account for a few days.


– Pens are having a lot of trouble drafting and producing talent at the forward position. Friendly reminder that Beau Bennett has scored 4 goals in 38 NHL games.
– Logjam at forward position in Pens organization? Brian Gibbons. Your argument is invalid. That topic should not even be discussed. If you’re using that logic, Brendan Gallagher, if drafted by the Penguins, would be in Wilkes-Barre right now because Brian Gibbons is the next big thing.
– Don’t fall for the myth that Shero and his staff drafts and then trades promising defensemen for help at the forward position. We’ve still yet to see it with his own draft picks.
– This summer will see Ray Shero drafting his 9th class as GM of the Penguins.
– The Penguins are a pipeline for European hockey leagues.
– Maybe when Shero trades for a draft pick, he comes up with a new stipulation where that team drafts the pick for him.
*And we understand we can’t expect production from forwards drafted in the past few seasons. That was why we exluded first-round picks. All teams in the charts are on an even playing field.


-We used basically every professional-hockey resource on the Internet.

-All stats are up to date as March 2, 2014.