When Jim Rutherford was in charge of the Pittsburgh Penguins, he traded away his first-round pick six times. The Penguins were perpetually in a win-now mode because of the presence of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, so Rutherford did everything he could to surround them with established NHL stars. Because of that, the Penguins couldn’t sit back and wait for their own draft picks to develop, they needed to go out and find players through other means to supplement the high-end talent.
One of the biggest sources of depth for the Penguins was the NCAA, where they routinely added undrafted players that had polished their game at the college level. Players like Conor Sheary and Zach Aston-Reese were acquired for nothing more than an entry-level contract and went on to help the Penguins fill out their lineup with effective, NHL talent.
It appears as though Patrik Allvin, the new general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, learned how valuable those acquisitions are during his time in Pittsburgh. During his introductory press conference today, Allvin explained just how important it is to add players to the organization from avenues outside of the first round.
I think first and foremost you have to be open-minded. This is a humble game, I think the players change and the game is changing consistently. You have to be open-minded and you look for talent. You have to trust your scouting staff and the people that work for you. Obviously we want to play a fast and skilled game, and I think in order to be successful you have to be able to find players outside the first round. You need to complement the organization with college and European free agents. That’s something that I’m looking forward to.
Rutherford noted Allvin’s connections in Europe especially as a valuable asset for the Canucks as they move forward. The new GM is the first-ever from Sweden and just the second European currently in charge of an NHL franchise.
If you look at the regulars for Vancouver, none of them were really acquired in the late rounds or through entry-level free agency. Even a player like Matthew Highmore, who was an undrafted college signing, came to Vancouver through a trade, several years after making his NHL debut. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Nils Hoglander, Quinn Hughes, Bo Horvat, Vasily Podkolzin, and Thatcher Demko, the only real homegrown talent, were all picked in the top 40 selections in their respective drafts.
While it’s easy to say that a team should find top-end players in the late rounds, it’s extremely difficult to do. What Allvin means by his comments today is that the depth options, those that surround the stars and fill out the depth chart, need to be sourced directly by the Canucks through their amateur scouting staff. That’s a huge philosophical change from recent years, where bottom-six options were routinely signed well into their careers after they’d already reached unrestricted free agency. Tucker Poolman, Jay Beagle, Micheal Ferland, Antoine Roussel, Derek Dorsett, Erik Gudbranson, and others were given multi-year contracts by former GM Jim Benning, despite not really being at the point in their careers where they could fill out the top of a lineup. Whether Allvin’s strategy here will be successful is still yet to be seen, but Pittsburgh is a shining example of how–with the help of the right development staff–valuable assets can be acquired from many different places.