Taking charge of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Draft Day

Daily Herald File Photo Although he was unable to bring in any Prince Albert Raiders players to the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect pool, Daily Herald sports reporter Lucas Punkari was able to land Moose Jaw Warriors blueliner Daemon Hunt during a virtual NHL Draft.

With no NHL Draft this past weekend, our sports reporter decided to play the role of Jim Rutherford in a virtual setting

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few days as you gear up for your socially distanced Canada Day party, you probably heard that the National Hockey League Draft Lottery was a bit of a gong show.

Not only do we still not know where Alexis Lafreniere is going to end up, but there’s a very good chance that the Rimouski Oceanic star forward might become the property of a team that already has a ton of start in their offence.

As a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, I’m already planning to order my #11 jersey and put it next to my Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin attire, in addition to watching social media burn to the ground as everyone reacts to the lottery.

In normal times, this past weekend is one of my favourites of the year, as many of the junior and college hockey players that I have kept an eye on over the last couple of seasons become NHL prospects.

The 2020 edition of the draft, which was slated for Friday and Saturday in Montreal, also had a lot of local content with a Prince Albert blueliner (Braden Schneider of Brandon Wheat Kings), a former Minto forward (Josh Pillar of the Kamloops Blazers) and four members of the Raiders (Kaiden Guhle, Ozzy Wiesblatt, Landon Kosior and Ilya Usau) all being possible picks.

A few weeks ago, Paul Figler of Dub Network fame posted a Tweet where he had done the Winnipeg Jets draft from front to back on a draft simulator website.

Naturally, I was intrigued, and have messed around with it over the last few weeks.

Now that we kind of know what the draft is going to look like when it eventually takes place, I decided to take charge of the Penguins and see what would happen if I was playing the role of Jim Rutherford.

To start things off, there’s the whole matter of who ends up with the first overall pick.

For those that aren’t aware of how the second phase lottery is going to work, it will take place after the best-of-five matchups conclude later this summer.

The Eastern Conference play-in series will see the Penguins take on the Montreal Canadiens, the Carolina Hurricanes face the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders square off with the Florida Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs go up against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Western Conference play-in contests will see the Edmonton Oilers take on the Chicago Blackhawks, the Nashville Predators face the Arizona Coyotes, the Vancouver Canucks square off with the Minnesota Wild and the Calgary Flames go up against Winnipeg Jets.

If the playoffs don’t take place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Islanders, Rangers, Panthers, Canadiens, Canucks, Wild, Coyotes and Blackhawks will have a one-in-eight chance to earn the first overall pick in the lottery.

With all those scenarios in mind, I decided to hit the random button on the draft board and see what would happen.

“First overall pick…Pittsburgh Penguins.”

I then proceeded to a victory lap around the office.

Upon drafting Lafreniere with the virtual first overall pick, I put my feet up on the desk, had a slice of pizza and informed co-worker Michael Olekysn of all the Stanley Cups the Penguins are going to win.

“Let’s remember some guys instead,” Oleksyn replied before talking about Rutgers Scarlet Knights quarterbacks from days gone by.

After a bit of a wait, the Penguins weren’t up again until the third round, where they had the 85th overall pick.

At this point, I figured I should get a blueliner and elected to take Daemon Hunt of the Moose Jaw Warriors, who I think might go higher when the draft itself takes place despite missing most of the 2019-20 season with an arm injury.

In the fourth round, I started to debate if I should take Red Deer Rebels forward Ben King or Kosior with the 116th overall selection.

“Well, I think Kosior will still be around if we get to the fifth round, so I’ll risk it and go with King,” I said to myself.

When I returned to the draft board with the 147th overall selection, my plans had gone awry as Kosior was long gone after going to the San Jose Sharks 20 picks earlier.

Ah well, I’ll make up for that miss by landing Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey award winner in Blake Biondi.

The Penguins had one last pick in the sixth round, which I naturally used to take a player from my hometown Soo Greyhounds in forward Tanner Dickinson.

Hey, we all have our biases.

Now I’m not expecting the Penguins to magically end up Lafreniere somehow and we don’t even have our first round pick, unless we were to win the lottery, as we dealt it along with Alex Galchenyuk and Calen Addison for Jason Zucker a few months ago.

However, if the Penguins do anything close to what I did in a virtual setting, I’ll be really happy.

It also turned out to be a good day for the local content at the draft, with Guhle and Schneider being taken in the first round by the Predators and the Dallas Stars respectively.

In addition to Kosior, Wiesblatt and Pillar also heard their names called during the draft by the Blackhawks and the Maple Leafs.

As for the other teams, the top five was pretty forward heavy after Lafreniere with Quinton Byfield (Los Angeles Kings), Tim Stutzle (Ottawa Senators), Marco Rossi (Detroit Red Wings) and Cole Perfetti (Senators) all being selected.

Also, if you are a Devils fan, you might need to start planning the parade, as you were able to snag Jamie Drysdale, Jack Quinn and Connor Zary in the first 16 picks.

The only drawback to the proceedings was that Usau wasn’t picked by a team, but I made sure that he was the first person to get an invite to virtual Penguins training camp before I returned to the real world.