The Penguins have five selections in this summer’s draft: First round (21st overall), fourth round (98th overall), fifth round (145th overall), and two in the seventh round (203rd and 207th overall).
How do they use those picks to best fill their needs?
The Penguins' prospect pool is one of the weakest, if not the weakest, in the league. That's the price you pay when you go all-in to and win back-to-back Stanley Cups.
The Penguins are missing a true standout. When the NHL Network ranked the top 50 prospects in the league at the start of the season, the Penguins and Sharks were the only teams without a single prospect on the list. Beyond standouts, the pool lacks real depth.
The prospect pool lacks the most depth at defense. The Penguins have used higher picks on defensemen in recent years, some of whom have already proven to be unsuccessful through no fault of the team. The Penguins drafted Connor Hall in the third round in 2016, and his career was derailed by multiple shoulder injuries. He only played in 68 total games over the past three seasons, and the Penguins relinquished their signing rights. Zach Lauzon, a second-round pick in 2017, went unsigned after dealing with post-concussion effects for the past two seasons.
The defenseman in the system with the highest upside is undoubtedly Calen Addison, a second-round pick in 2018. He's small for a defenseman, at 5-foot-10 and 181 pounds, but he's fast and agile. Bill Guerin calls him a "new age" defenseman for that reason. Addison has one more year of junior hockey with the WHL's Lethbridge Hurricanes before he turns pro.
After Addison, the pool gets pretty bleak. Niclas Almari, a fifth-round pick in 2016 is an intriguing prospect. He's a reliable defensive defenseman, and a good skater. He has the added benefit of maturity that comes from the top Finnish men's league. He'll be in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton full-time in 2019-20, where he could stand to focus on filling out his 6-foot-1, 170-pound frame. He doesn't have the upside of a guy like Addison, though.
Clayton Phillips is another defenseman in the system to follow. The 2017 third-round pick is a good skater and a puck-moving defenseman. He had success on the scoresheet in juniors, but that hasn't translated to the college game over the past one and a half seasons at the University of Minnesota. He reportedly intends to transfer from Minnesota this summer, which will cause him to be ineligible for NCAA hockey for the next year. His trajectory is unclear.
Does that mean that the Penguins take a defenseman in the first round? Not necessarily.
This is a deep draft class, but it is primarily deep at forward. Beyond Bowen Byram, who could go No. 3 overall, there is a dropoff in quality among the defensemen projected to go in the first round. The best player available by the time the No. 21 pick rolls around is probably going to be a forward.
If defenseman Thomas Harley is still on the board at No. 21, he wouldn't be a bad pick. Harley, who plays for the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, is a strong skater and a puck-moving defenseman. Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino said “You’d much rather coach the wildness out of his game than have to encourage more of it” of Harley’s game.
What about the rest of the draft? What weaknesses should be addressed?
Even though the Penguins' forward prospect pool is the strongest position group in the system, it's still weak compared to the rest of the league. Left winger Filip Hallander, a second-round pick in 2018, has the most upside of the forward prospects, and he also has the benefit of developing in the top Swedish men's league. He's only 18 years old, so he's still a few years away from being able to make a real impact at the NHL level.
Wing Kasper Bjorkqvist, center Justin Almeida, and center/winger Jordy Bellerive are three of the higher-end forward prospects who will be joining Wilkes-Barre next season. Bjorkqvist is the closest to seeing NHL action among that group. The organization loves his fitness level. Guerin noted that Bjorkqvist broke a lot of the fitness testing records for the entire team, not just the prospects.
Sam Lafferty and Anthony Angello, who both play center and wing, and left winger Sam Miletic are three forwards who have already played in Wilkes-Barre who could see NHL time next season, but they aren't at the level of some of the forwards who have come through Wilkes-Barre in the past. There's no one like Jake Guentzel waiting in the wings for his shot.
There isn't much to see in the system at goaltender, with 20-year-old Alex D'Orio and 22-year-old Emil Larmi, both undrafted free agents, likely to be the only goaltending prospects under contract by the start of next season. D'Orio had an impressive junior career despite playing on a bad team for most of it, and Larmi was instrumental in his HPK club winning the Finnish league's championship this season. Both are unproven at the North American professional level, and it's hard to predict a goaltender's future success based on their junior success, but I wouldn't use one of the Penguins' five picks on a goaltender. This is a deep draft for goaltenders, but they likely wouldn't pluck anyone from those later rounds who could be a difference-maker anytime in the immediate future.
So, what do the Penguins need in the draft? A little bit of everything. It's hard to point out holes in certain position groups in the system when the entire pool is a hole compared to the rest of the league.
MORE DRAFT PREVIEW COVERAGE
To continue reading, log into your account: