Matt Gajtka is a Featured Writer and Penguins Beat Reporter for Sports Haze Pittsburgh. He also hosts the Polish Prodigy Podcast, an audio exploration of sports and culture, on Blog Talk Radio (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/mattgajtka).
In his first major act as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ray Shero drafted Peterborough Petes center Jordan Staal with the second overall selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound jetliner scored 96 points in two Ontario Hockey League seasons prior to being chosen by the Penguins, who had just completed their third straight last-place season.
Brighter days seemed imminent for Pittsburgh, though: 2005 No. 1 overall pick Sidney Crosby had scored 100 points as an 18-year-old and 2004 No. 2 selection Evgeni Malkin was set to join the roster in the fall of 2006 after escaping his Russian club.
With enviable wealth already in place at center, Shero could have been excused for searching for an elite young winger to complement either Crosby or Malkin for years to come. Instead, the rookie GM bypassed available sniper prospects like Phil Kessel, Derick Brassard and Kyle Okposo in favor of a third pivot.
Upon first glance at the 2006 draft chart, conventional wisdom informs that the best player taken was at No. 3, where Chicago snagged current captain Jonathan Toews from the University of North Dakota. Toews led the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup last season, has 266 points in 299 career games and is widely respected for his intense demeanor and precocious leadership skills.
Sweden’s Nicklas Backstrom went to the Capitals in the fourth spot, making it three consecutive centers taken after the Blues made U.S. National Team defenseman Erik Johnson the No. 1 selection. While Backstrom hasn’t received the attention of Toews, he is the only member of his draft class to record a 100-point season (101 in 2009-10).
Read more about Backstrom!