PENGUINS DRAFT RETROSPECTIVE - ROUND 1
Contributors: Mike O'Brien & Tyler Rosten
The NHL Draft is mere hours away with the First Round set to start at 7:00PM on Friday at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. As the Penguins prepare their pick (22nd overall) and the weekend on a whole, we take a look at some of the most successful first-round draft picks to play with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Eight players chosen in first round by Pittsburgh have spent time in the AHL with the Penguins and, as you'll see below, the early 2000s saw some of the biggest names in the team's recent history come through W-B/S.
Colby Armstrong RW (21st overall, 2001 NHL Entry Draft)
Having helped lead the Red Deer Rebels to a WHL Championship and the Memorial Cup in 2001, the Penguins took the Lloydminster, Saskatchewan native 21st overall in that summer's draft. The next season, Armstrong was second on the Rebels with 68 points (27g-41a) in 64 games and closed out his WHL career with 76 goals, 108 assists over 204 contests. In his rookie season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2002-03 Armstrong racked up a modest seven goals and 11 assists in 73 games. His 2004-05 season was a breakout year as he played in all 80 games and was fourth in goals scored (18) and second on the team in assists (37).
Armstrong would spend half of next season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before being called up to Pittsburgh for the rest of 2005-06 and enjoyed his best stretch offensively in the NHL with 40 points (16g-24a) in 47 games. In February of 2008, he was a part of the trade to Nashville that brought Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis to Pittsburgh. Armstrong currently plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Marc Andre Fleury G (1st overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft)
For the first time since selecting Mario Lemieux in 1984, the Penguins owned the first overall pick in the NHL Draft. They chose to build from the back, drafting future goalkeeping stalwart MarcAndre Fleury in 2003, making him only the third goalie ever to be drafted first overall. Coming from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL, Fleury quickly made his NHL debut in the 2003-04 season with Pittsburgh appearing in 22 games but only registering four wins. He was returned to Cape Breton for 10 games before being optioned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to get his first taste of post season action in the AHL, appearing in two matches.
Fleury remained in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the following season where he played in 54 games, going 26-19-4-with a goal against average of 2.52 along. In 2005-06, Fleury would explode out of the gates for the AHL Penguins, winning 10 of his first 12 starts and registering a miniscule 1.57 GAA. His success earned him a call-up to Pittsburgh, where he has since been the main man in the net for the Penguins, winning a Stanley Cup in 2008-09. This past season Fleury was second in the NHL with 42 wins.
Brooks Orpik D (18th overall, 2000 NHL Entry Draft)
Having fallen to North Dakota in the NCAA Championship Game that Spring when Pittsburgh drafted Brooks Orpik in 2000, the Boston College defenseman tallied 20 assists during his junior year to help make amends against the Fighting Sioux and lead the Eagles to the NCAA title. Forgoing his final year of eligibility to turn pro for 2001-02, Orpik recorded 20 points (2g-18a) in 78 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In 2002-03, he spent the majority of the season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, notching four goals and 14 assists in 71 games and also made his NHL debut, skating in six contests for the Pittsburgh Penguins
Orpik would find a permanent home with Pittsburgh for the 2003-04 season and has gone on to help the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009 and was instrumental in winning it all 2009. He has twice been recognized as the Penguins Defensive Player of the Year (2010, 2011) and became only the third defenseman in Pittsburgh history to appear in 500 career games.
Ryan Whitney D (5th overall, 2002 NHL Entry Draft)
When he was picked by the Penguins in the summer of 2002, Whitney had just completed his freshman year at Boston University. He went on to skate two more seasons for the Terriers, leading the entire team in scoring as a defenseman in 2003-04 with 25 points (9g-16a) in 39 games.
It was in 2004-05 that Whitney began his professional career with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and continued his great play. Whitney played in all 80 games and was third on the team in assists with 35, while also leading Penguins defensemen in assists (35) and points (41). Whitney would only play in nine games the following season in Wilkes-Barre before being called up to Pittsburgh and appearing in 68 games in 2005-06. Whitney would spend three more seasons in Pittsburgh, winning a Stanley Cup in 2008-09. On February 26, 2009, he was traded to Anaheim in exchange for Eric Tangradi and Chris Kuntiz. He currently plays with the Edmonton Oilers.