The clock is ticking - the 2019 EHEC Entry Draft kicks off in barely more than 48 hours.
When that time comes, fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins will get to find out who the next face of the franchise is, after Cody Hodgson was traded for a package including the second overall pick.
The race is close between the top two prospects in the draft. American centre Jack Hughes and Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko are both elite offensive players, and there is little reason to believe that the Penguins will go off the board with one of these two players available. Whoever the Penguins end up taking second overall, they will have the pressure of being the main piece of the Cody Hodgson trade attached to them. But they will also have the opportunity to lead a team that's looking for it's new star. Hughes is a better skater, a more dynamic offensive player, the best passer in his draft class and just may have the ability to be the best passer in the league. Kakko is a little bit more pro ready, and he's a better shooter and better defensively. They are different players, but they are both undeniably elite prospects.
The Penguins - an older team that struggled to a 33-37-12 record last year - have entered a rebuild that has seen the team more or less blown apart over the last 8 days. Not much remains as the new GM has sought to revamp the roster, adding youth and depth. On that end, it's mission accomplished - a team with an average age of 30.6 years now projects to field a roster with an average age around 27, and it could get younger quickly, with players like Jesperi Kotkaniemi and two top-10 picks pushing for roster spots. The cost, of course, has been at the top end of the roster as Cody Hodgson, Evgeni Malkin, Nathan Horton, Jonathan Blum, and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson are no more. David Krejci, Mattias Tedenby, Brandon Saad, Jeremy Roy, and Jacob Trouba are the top newcomers. They are joined by unproven youngsters with impressive skillsets like Jared McCann and Gustav Forsling and role players like Nikolas Brouillard and Laurent Dauphin.
And of course, draft picks. The next two EHEC Entry Drafts will go a long way in defining the Penguins franchise moving forward. The Penguins will have made 7 picks by the time the 70th overall selection rolls around in this year's draft after adding the #2, #27, and #54 picks via trade.
"We're really, really excited," says GM Trevor of the upcoming draft. "It's obviously a huge time for us... it's imperative that we get it right. We've been able to accomplish a lot of what we wanted to do, but obviously, the top end of our roster has taken a hit. We really like a lot of the players we've brought in, though; we think we have a group of young players we can build with, and now we get to try to fill in some of those holes."
Are they done?
"Well, we aren't ruling anything out. It's been a bit of a whirlwind the last two weeks here and it's kind of settled down. As I said, we've accomplished a lot of what we wanted to do. But there are players we're still open to moving and we'll listen and you never know when someone may come in with an offer that piques your interest."
But at least in the short term, the Penguins' priorities have shifted. "We're getting ready for the draft. We've got a lot of picks obviously and with the draft coming up not long after I got here, we've had to get busy looking at prospects and seeing who fits in with what we want to do and where we can get these guys. It's an exciting time of the year, it's probably the most exciting time of the year for a rebuilding team, for the fans and the GM alike."