Penguins history: Revisiting the craziness of the 1990 NHL Draft

The Pittsburgh Penguins selected Jaromir Jagr with the fifth overall pick in the 1990 NHL Draft. A proposed trade for Paul Coffey from the Vancouver Canucks and an audible from the Quebec Nordiques nearly shuffled the draft order and altered the history of all three clubs.

On February 19, 1992, Paul Coffey was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in a three-way deal with the Philadelphia Flyers that brought some rather formidable talent to Pittsburgh that helped the Pittsburgh Penguins secure their second Stanley Cup title.

Two years before the trade was executed, in May 1990, Coffey’s name was included in an interesting proposal from a team located on the Canadian side of the Seattle border.

The Initial Offer

The Vancouver Canucks were in possession of the second overall pick and were targeting 6’5″, 220-pound center Keith Primeau. Primeau was forecasted to go right around the fifth overall pick. The 1990 NHL Draft was considered to be ripe with talent and many teams discussed trading down the draft board to maximize picks and potential assets.

The most obvious choice for a trade partner for Vancouver was the Penguins who were in possession of the fifth pick. A proposed deal had Coffey and Pittsburgh’s fifth overall pick going to the Canucks in exchange for their second overall pick.

Naturally, Pittsburgh wanted more for Coffey than what the Canucks were offering, despite the fact the Penguins and Coffey were embroiled in a contract dispute due to Coffey wanting a raise to $1 million a season.

Vancouver was also in possession of the 18th pick overall which was discussed as a throw-in to the deal and at one point the Canucks considered adding Doug Lidster into the mix to clear some space on the D-line and sweeten the pot for the Penguins.

Nearly Stolen

Aside from the potential Coffey trade, there was another situation developing that may have held some serious ramifications for the Penguins and their history books. The Quebec Nordiques held the first pick overall were focused on selecting rugged right-winger Owen Nolan, but a trip overseas nearly altered the draft landscape.

Nordiques president Marcel Aubut was visiting Switzerland and saw a young Czech player named Jaromir Jagr honing his craft. Aubut invited club executive Maurice Filion to come and take a closer look at the future Hall of Famer.

Jagr was considered by many to be the most talented player available in the draft, but at the time central scouting did not rank European players and clubs were wary of drafting European prospects, due to the complexities of securing exit deals on current contracts and the players’ willingness to join the clubs that drafted them.

Petr Nedved (ranked fourth overall) was an exception to the rule as he played in North America after he defected from Czechoslovakia.

French Kiss

The Nordiques were still awaiting the first pick from the 1989 NHL entry draft Mats Sundin to come to the NHL. Sundin was under contract with Djurgarden in Sweden, who was seeking $800,000 for his release from the Nordiques.

With Sundin’s status up in the air and the Nordiques evaluating their options, the spectre of having two players (Sundin, Jagr) drafted but not with the team, may have provided some extra incentive for Quebec to pick a player that would not pay immediate dividends for them (Jagr), especially with the Eric Lindros sweepstakes looming in the summer of 1991.

In the end, no deals came to fruition and the top 5 picks of the draft ended up like this:

Owen Nolan – Nordiques
Petr Nedved – Canucks
Keith Primeau – Detroit Red Wings
Mike Ricci – Flyers
Jaromir Jagr – Penguins

Here are a few other players selected in that draft who would appear in a Penguins jersey:

Drake Berehowsky, Shawn Antoski, Bryan Smolinski, John Slaney, Jiri Slegr, Joe Dziedzic.

Next: Every Team's Greatest Player Of All-Time

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What do you think would have happened if the Canucks pulled off the trade with the Penguins or if the Nordiques drafted Jagr? Share your comments below.