The Penguins have drafted some of the best talent in NHL history. Players like Lemieux, Crosby, Malkin, Recchi, Naslund, and Letang. But they also drafted these guys ....
Hindsight: Maxim Afinogenov 3rd Round 69th overall
The Hype: He was 6'5" one of the biggest prospects in NCAA Hockey coming from St. Cloud State. Was supposed to be the next Chris Pronger or Derian Hatcher. Fought everyone and was a big presence in front of the net. He played all four years at St. Cloud and was immediately inserted into the WBS line-up for a playoff run in 2000-01.
What Happened: He quit. Yes, he quit in the middle of Penguins training camp. He busted his teeth on his own teammate's helmet, lost a fight, and quit his NHL dream right then and there. He went back to school and left years of hard work on the table. Never playing an NHL and quitting before he had a chance to earn one makes him an easy choice for this list.
Hindsight: Henrik Zetterberg 7th Round 210th Overall
The Hype: Mario Lemiux called him "probably the fastest guy in the National Hockey League". When you hear Koltsov's name it was followed up with speed and his speed served him well in WBS to where he racked up .98 Points Per Game in the AHL.
What Happened: He was then recalled for the 03-04 season after 2 games the season before. He floundered in the NHL looking confused by everyone being just as quick and more skilled than him. He managed to play then entire 2002-03 season because no one else would. During the 2005 lockout he played over in Russia and realized he would get paid just as much for being terrible. In 2005-06 he played a good chunk of the season in the NHL and got demoted to the AHL where he thrived. The intoxicating lure of Russian hockey and a pile of Rupees in a brown paper bag was too much for him and he split to the Russian Superleague (which is now the KHL) and never looked back. Wasting a 1st rounder on a career NHL'er with .47 points per game after being touted "Russian Rocket 2" cements his position on this list.
Hindsight: Nikolai Kulemin 2nd Round 44th Overall
The Hype: Carl was a massive 6'3" defenseman from Boston College who earned top minutes during his senior season at BC. He was their all-purpose defenseman playing in all situations helping his team to a National Championship in 2010. His amateur pedigree looked good on paper:
- Hockey East Tournament Champion - 2007
- Hockey East All-Tournament Team - 2008
- Hockey East Tournament Champion - 2008
- NCAA National Champion - 2008
- Hockey East All-Tournament Team - 2010
- Hockey East Tournament Champion - 2010
- NCAA National Champion - 2010
Hindsight: Dave Bolland 2nd Round 32nd Overall
The Hype: In 2004, Salmonsson was the highest ranked Swedish prospect in the Draft. A shoulder injury was considered the only reason this highly-touted prospect slipped to the 2nd round. He put up 27 pts in 54 games for the WHL Spokane Cheifs.
What Happened: Surprise! He signed a two-year deal with Brynäs and never came back to the NHL.
Hindsight: Zdeno Chara 3rd Round 56th Overall
The Hype: Dipping into the magical gene pool of Kladno (home of Jagr), Skrbek was drafted after only playing one-year in the Czech league. Putting up 22 points in 29 games for Kladno was enough for the Penguins to snag him up 28th overall.
What Happened: Once the shine of all things Czech wore off and Ivan Hlinka retreated to his underground lair, Skrbek played 4 games for the Penguins before being shipped to Syracuse to get a little AHL polish. The following season he failed to make the NHL line-up and played a chunk of games for WBS popping 23 points in 51 games. He was then traded for Bob Boughner from the Predators. Skrbek made the expansion laden roster for the Preds and played 5 NHL games before he was concussed. After that he retreated back to the International leagues never earning a point in the NHL.
Hindsight: Rob Blake 4th Round 70th Overall
The Hype: The biggest and baddest dude in the OHL. The year before he was drafted he racked up 272 PIM in only 57 games. Back when the enforcer had a place in hockey, the Penguins salivated having a madman on the ice to police jabronis that would take liberties on Lemieux, Coffey, or "Dahn Tahn" Robbie Brown.
What Happened: Much like a movie script, Major punched his way around the minors never putting together even a semblance of an NHL skill set. He was let go by the Penguins and snagged up by the Bruins but never cracked the line-up
Hindsight: Brenden Morrow 1st Round 25th Overall
The Hype: Dome came to North America with a Ric Flair swagger and no contract. He signed with the IHL at 16 with the Utah Grizzlies and in his first year won the Turner Cup. This was enough for the Penguins to earn him a shot in the first round of the hosted 1997 NHL Draft.
What Happened: The Penguins sent him to the IHL Vegas Thunder which was trendy since, then NHL's next big thing, Radek Bonk did it and was supposed to take the NHL by storm (spoiler: he didn't). The Pens gave him a shot in 1997 and he only earned 7 points in 30 games. He was sent to Syracuse -- where Penguins go to die -- and had a respectable couple stretches of games there. He bounced around the AHL and played one more game with the Flames earning no points.
Hindsight: Janne Niinimaa 2nd Round 26th Overall
The Hype: A massive 6'4" 227lb Swedish defenseman that was the premier shot-down d-man of his junior teams. Priding himself on stellar defensive play he was considered one of the best on the market at that time for a top-heavy Penguins roster with multiple 100 point scorers.
What Happened: Big doesn't translate to "fast" especially when it comes to adapting to a North American game. He was given a 2 game sniff in the NHL with the Penguins and was shipped to the, then farm team, Cleveland Lumberjacks. Then after a 5 game test the following year, Stephan had nothing to contribute and it was back to Cleveland. Like anyone with common sense that has spent any amount of time in the city of Cleveland, Bergkvist took his ball (puck) and went home to Sweden to play out the rest of his career.
Hindsight: Danny Briere 1st Round 24th Overall
The Hype: Having a core of Lemieux, Jagr, and Francis to build around there's not too much to worry about. Barrasso's contract was running out and they needed to look into the future. That future was Hillier, the heir to the Penguins net. Tearing it up in the OHL with a .905 (remember in the mid-90's dudes were putting in over 50 goals on the reg) he was considered the top goalie prospect in the 1996 draft. His accolades were great:
- 1995-96 1st Team All-Star
- 1995-96 Goaltender Of The Year
- 1996-97 Dave Pinkney Trophy (Lowest Team GAA
- 1997-98 Dave Pinkney Trophy (Lowest Team GAA)
- 1997-98 Lowest Individual GAA
Hiller was quoted " ... it didn't work out so far the way I wanted it to." That's an understatement.
Hindsight: Max Pacioretty 1st Round 22nd Overall
The Hype: Birthed in the sacred hockey womb of Shattuck-Saint Mary's Angelo was branded for greatness almost immediately in his hockey career. Drafted 1st round in the QMJHL draft (11th overall) and he was first line center on his team. 98 points in 57 games with his club had people losing their minds labeling him with every goofy superlative in the book of hockey cliches. Some mock drafts had him as high as 5th overall at one point along with names Kane, Voracek, and Couture.
- Named Player of the Week for September 26–October 2, 2005.
- Named Rookie of the Month for October and November 2005.
- Awarded the Michel Bergeron Trophy (offensive rookie of the year) in 2006
- Named to the QMJHL All-Rookie Team in 2006.
- Gold Medal in 2009 WJC for Canada
The poor guy tore his ACL twice and MCL once and had recurring hip problems. He never quit and recovered from that. Everytime he found his groove he was sidelined with an injury. In 2015 he signed with Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL and played one game before quitting the rest of the season.
He was quoted:
“It was a tough year mentally and physically. I’ve been through a lot over the past few years. I just had to play around with my conscience and started training about two months ago. I was sitting at home and I said I need to play. I can’t do this. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I don’t play hockey. I want to be able to play at my best and needed some time to put this together.”