Edmonton had the No. 1 pick for the third straight year. Columbus had the second pick and the biggest name available on the trade market in Rick Nash. Anaheim and Vancouver had some enticing chips on the table as well, with the Ducks and Canucks perhaps ready to part ways with Bobby Ryan and Roberto Luongo, respectively.
But in the end, it was the host Penguins who stole the show at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins pulled off the biggest deal of the weekend, shipping Jordan Staal to Carolina for a package that included Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the eighth overall pick.
In one fell swoop, the Penguins not only dealt the biggest name to get moved all weekend, they even managed to get in on all the major draft storylines.
This was a draft full of family ties. Pittsburgh got that started by reuniting Staal with his brother Eric in Carolina, while getting one of the ever-growing second generation of the Sutter clan back in return. Brandon Sutter is the son of Brent Sutter, one of six Sutter brothers to play in the NHL. Winnipeg added another Sutter to the NHL family on Saturday, drafting Lukas Sutter, son of Brent’s brother Rich, in the second round.
The addition of Dumoulin, a Biddeford, Maine native who plays at Boston College, got the Penguins involved in the revival of New England prospects that was one of the dominant storylines of the second day of the draft. Even the Bruins, who have not dipped into local waters frequently in recent years, started their day by taking Charlestown’s Matt Grzelcyk in the third round.
Dumoulin may have been ahead of his going in the second round of the 2009 draft, but he has plenty of company now after this year witnessed a resurgence in New England talent available.
Pittsburgh completed the trifecta by getting in on the run on defensemen in the first round, using the eighth pick to take blueliner Derrick Pouliot. Pouliot was of eight defensemen picked in the top 10. Overall, a record-tying 13 blueliners were picked in the first round, including another by Pittsburgh when the Penguins took Olli Maatta with their own pick at No. 22.
But it was the Staal deal that really made Pittsburgh the No. 1 story of this draft. While Nash, Ryan and Luongo all stayed put at least for now, the Penguins wasted no time in shipping Staal out after he turned down a reported 10-year, $60 million extension.
Staal was set to hit free agency after the upcoming season, and there was little hope of retaining him after he rejected that contract proposal. The Penguins banked on getting a better return for him now than waiting until the trade deadline, but still faced a challenge in getting full value.
Carolina may have been the only destination that could turn Staal into more than a one-year rental because of the presence of his brother, but the Hurricanes knew that too. Still, Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero was able to get a strong package back in return.
And he wasn’t done, as Shero later sent defenseman Zbynek Michalek to Phoenix for a third-round pick and two prospects. That cleared $4 million off of Pittsburgh’s cap for the next three years. Coupled with $2 million in savings in going from Staal’s $4 million deal to Sutter’s $2 million cap hit, the Penguins can now be players on the free-agent market.
Shero wasn’t able to make another deal with Nashville for the rights to pending free agent defenseman Ryan Suter, but he can still make a play for either Suter or winger Zach Parise on July 1. If he can land either, the Penguins could be the top story in free agency as well, and those moves could keep Pittsburgh in the spotlight all the way to the Cup next spring.