PITTSBURGH—Arguably, no NHL franchise has been more positively impacted by the draft than the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Official word came on Thursday that for the second time, the team will host it.
Less than 10 months after the city served as the site of the annual Winter Classic outdoor game, commissioner Gary Bettman was in Pittsburgh to confirm the
Bettman cited the Heinz Field outdoor game and the 1997 draft as high-profile league events staged in Pittsburgh, prompting Penguins president David Morehouse to joke that Bettman left out two recent Stanley Cup finals. Morehouse also used the press conference to publicly lobby to be awarded a future All-star game.
Twice at a time when the franchise was floundering both financially and on the ice, the Penguins drafted players No. 1 overall who would become among the best in the game during their eras in Mario Lemieux (1984) and Sidney Crosby (2005). Each player led a resurgence that elevated the Penguins to both profitability and a Stanley Cup.
"The draft for the Pittsburgh Penguins, it's no secret it's been a franchise-saver," Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero said.
The Penguins don't figure to acquire a player capable of that kind of impact when they draft in their home building June 22-23. Pittsburgh isn't likely to be drafting too high, what with its status as a Stanley Cup contender -- particularly if and when Crosby returns to game action after missing almost the past 10 months due to a concussion.
But the Stanley Cups won in the eras of Lemieux (1991, '92) and Crosby ('09) have helped lead to a youth hockey renaissance in western Pennsylvania that resulted in an unprecedented four area natives selected among the first 64 picks of this June's draft.
"That was just a validation from what we've seen with the explosion of youth hockey in Pittsburgh," Morehouse said. "When I was a kid, there were ... six (indoor) rinks here. Now, there's over 50 in the Tri-State area, and kids who ... used to gravitate toward baseball, basketball and football now are gravitating toward hockey."
Morehouse said the Penguins are "vocal" in expressing their desire to Bettman to host a future All-star game, noting that the team leads the NHL among U.S.-based franchises in merchandising and local television ratings.
"Obviously, at some point it would be great for there to be an All-star game here, but I'm not ready to commit to a date," Bettman said. "David is a passionate advocate for the club and for the city of Pittsburgh and for this building. And he has made it known that any events that are available, we should be considering Pittsburgh."
Consol Energy Center opened in October 2010 after lengthy public debate about whether the Civic Arena -- in the early stages of being torn down across the street -- needed to be replaced.
The Penguins were close to a move to another city, perhaps Kansas City, before financing was secured for a new facility four years ago.
In addition to Penguins games, the venue hosts select college basketball games annually and will be the site of NCAA tournament games this March and the NCAA Frozen Four the following spring.