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How ESPN Graded Penguins’ ‘Interesting’ 2024 NHL Draft Class

Pittsburgh received a strong mark despite not having a first-round pick

The Pittsburgh Penguins undeniably are in a transition period.

They didn’t make the playoffs in either of the last two seasons, and they haven’t won a postseason series since the 2017-18 campaign, one year after they last hoisted the Stanley Cup.

Sidney Crosby turns 37 this summer. Evgeni Malkin soon will be 38. Erik Karlsson just turned 34.

So, the NHL draft — and the opportunity it presents to build a strong pipeline of talent — was even more important than usual this year. And fortunately for the Penguins, they walked away from the festivities with a strong collection of players despite not having a first-round pick in wake of last offseason’s Karlsson trade.

ESPN’s Rachel Doerrie gave the Penguins a “B” grade for their 2024 NHL Draft class, which included a couple of second-round selections in defenseman Harrison Brunicke (No. 44) and left wing Tanner Howe (No. 46).

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“Harrison Brunicke and Tanner Howe were solid value, and should be good middle-of-the-lineup players at their respective positions,” Doerrie wrote. “Mac Swanson in the seventh was the most valuable selection outside of the first two rounds. He’s small, but he’s got a lot of markers that lead me to believe he can become an NHLer.

“Lots of value extracted by the Pens in this year’s draft. The acquisition of Kevin Hayes raised eyebrows, but they got a second-rounder for their trouble, and perhaps playing with two Hall of Famers can help produce offensive contributions from the big veteran. An interesting weekend, but the Penguins should be happy with their additions.”

Hayes, who’s coming off a down season with the St. Louis Blues, has two years remaining on his contract, with salaries north of $7 million for each season. But the Philadelphia Flyers retained 50% of his salary when trading him to St. Louis last offseason, and Pittsburgh just received a 2025 second-round pick for taking on the 32-year-old center. As Doerrie noted, a change of scenery could do wonders for Hayes, and that risk-reward potential has to be weighed as part of the Penguins draft calculus.

Nevertheless, the Pens infused some intriguing young talent into their system as they near an organizational crossroads. While one could argue Pittsburgh should lean fully into a rebuild, it’s also possible general manager Kyle Dubas attempts to thread the needle this summer, with an eye toward returning to championship contention before Crosby eventually rides off into the sunset.

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Featured image via Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports Images