Thursday: The Penguins have now officially announced the decision, keeping their 2020 first-round pick.
Wednesday: When the Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated from postseason contention in the qualification round and the NHL held Phase 2 of the draft lottery, GM Jim Rutherford had a decision to make. They could give the Minnesota Wild their 2020 first-round pick, which will be the 15th selection in this fall’s draft, to complete the Jason Zucker trade from earlier this season, or hand over their 2021 first-round pick instead. They had seven days to make that decision, but today Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic reports the Penguins will in fact keep the 2020 pick and give up their 2021 selection instead.
This decision does not come without risk. The 2021 selection is not protected in any way, meaning even if the pick is first-overall by way of winning the 2021 draft lottery, the Wild would still receive it. That would require the Penguins to miss the playoffs again, something that Rutherford obviously doesn’t count on doing.
It’s not the first time a team made a decision like this. The Ottawa Senators famously decided to hold onto their fourth-overall selection in 2018 and select Brady Tkachuk, giving up their 2019 pick to the Colorado Avalanche in the process. As it turned out, that pick ended up being fourth as well, which the Avalanche used to select Bowen Byram.
Obviously, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way, the Penguins feel as though they should be contenders for the Stanley Cup every year, let alone the playoffs. That confidence is held for good reason—the Penguins had made it to the playoffs every year since 2007, Malkin’s first season.
Another interesting thing to keep an eye on might be what Rutherford does with the 2020 pick, now that he has it. 15th would be the highest selection the Penguins have made since 2012 when they picked Derrick Pouliot. If Rutherford believes he can win in 2020-21, there’s nothing stopping him from dealing this pick for some help before the October draft.