The Penguins have invited three undrafted free agents to next week's Prospects Challenge: 18-year-old defenseman Liam Ross of the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves, 19-year-old center Billy Moskal of the OHL’s London Knights, and 18-year-old winger Josh Williams of the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings.
All three of the players participated in the Penguins’ development camp earlier in the summer.
Today, we'll take a deeper look at Williams to see what he could potentially bring to the organization.
Position: Right wing
Team: Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
After being ranked the No. 67 North American skater heading into the 2019 NHL draft, Williams went undrafted this summer, his first year of eligibility.
Williams made his WHL debut with the Medicine Hat Tigers, playing his first full season in 2017-18. He missed 25 games from the beginning of November to early January with a collarbone injury, and only skated in 47 games as a rookie, scoring 11 goals and nine assists.
Williams produced at a similar rate in his sophomore 2018-19 season, scoring nine goals and 12 assists in 41 games with the Tigers in the first half of the season. On Jan. 10, the Tigers traded him to the Oil Kings, a stronger team. Williams' production remained consistent, with five goals and seven assists in 25 games to finish the season.
Before the 2018-19 WHL season, Williams also represented Canada in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he scored five goals and an assist in five games as Canada went on to win the tournament.
After the Oil Kings acquired Williams, head coach Brad Lauer pointed to Williams' shot as a strength. It has an exceptionally quick release, and it's accurate.
"He’s got a shot that can beat goalies from almost anywhere," Lauer said. "That’s one area where obviously on the power play he’s our trigger guy."
DraftSite.com said Williams "might have the hardest velocity shot in the (2019 draft) class."
I mean, come on:
• Offensive instincts
According to DraftGeek.Ca, Williams is "just one of those players who always have the puck find them and always knows what to do with it. Keeping it simple offensively, Williams is timely in getting the puck off his stick, releasing prior to receiving contact and whilst it’s a soft play it also drags defenders out of position and opens up space for his linemate."
That timeliness is seen in this goal against Sweden in the Hlinka tournament. After Williams picks up the puck, the give-and-go with Ryan Suzuki is fast. Right after Williams passes the puck to Suzuki, he immediately gets his hands in position to take the shot, and unleashes another laser:
Coach Lauer also spoke about Williams' positioning after the trade.
“With Josh’s skill level, he brings an offensive game to us,” said Lauer. “He’s a guy that doesn’t need a lot of time to get open. His biggest thing is finding that area on the ice in the offensive zone."
Here, he manages to find himself an incredible amount of space against defense-minded Sweden, of all teams:
Many of Williams' goals come from his positioning down low and his knowing when to get in a prime spot for a one-timer:
Williams is on the bigger side for an 18-year-old junior prospect, but he doesn't use that size to play a physical game. He's good defensively in other ways, though.
Williams doesn't have a very powerful stride. He skates more so with his feet directly under him, opting for shorter, choppier strides. Skating weaknesses are coachable, though. He wouldn't be the first Penguins prospect to join the organization as a weak skater and have to work to improve.
At 18, Williams still has two more seasons of junior hockey ahead of him before he is eligible to play in the minors. If he earns a contract out of the tournament, he could still return to juniors and the contract would slide until he turns pro.
Williams could also opt to not sign a professional contract and re-enter the draft next summer if he wants to take that route.
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