The biggest complaint about the Pittsburgh Penguins recent drafting and developing has been the inability to be able and produce top-six forwards to play along side Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins used their first round pick in 2010 on Beau Bennett, but injuries have largely kept him on the shelf for most of his two professional seasons so far.
Besides the work-in-progess Bennett, the Pens haven't drafted and developed a top-six winger since they took Ryan Malone in the 4th round of 1999 (if you don't count Colby Armstrong, which we will not, since he really wasn't a legit NHL caliber top-6 player). That is pretty ridiculous and needs to be addressed. With that in mind, and since there aren't really any 1st round defensive prospects left right now in this SB Nation mock draft (catch up on all the picks so far right here), finding a potential skilled winger seems like a no-brainer, so that's what we'll set out to do.
With the 22nd overall pick in the 2014 (mock) draft, the PIttsburgh Penguins select, from the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, winger Nikita Scherbak.
Several things drove us to taking Scherbak. Here's some of his scouting highlights:
Another guy who comes into the draft with some "grit" to go with a big body, some good skating, and some hands, Scherbak has a lot to like in his game. He's still very raw, since he's really just getting his feet wet in North America despite being older for this draft class. He has room to improve on his defensive game, and there are some questions about his effort level and consistency of said effort. One wonders how much of that is the "Russian" tag versus actual results. All of that having been said, he's known to be willing to win battles in the corners.
Scherbak is a player who still needs a lot of polish, but might have one of the highest ceilings of the "middle" tier of players in the first round given the fact that he's still really finding his game in North America. Still, he's made steady improvement and looks to continue doing so.
An intelligent player who’s shown to be very coachable, Scherbak’s game is featured around strong skating, creative vision and a willingness to engage physically in puck battles at both ends of the rink. He’s learning quickly and his big steps in development are exactly what teams covet.
Scherbak is a skilled but gritty forward who has a strong shot and offensive senses plus the ability to evade would be checkers by using his quick agility and slick hands. He puts pressure on opposing defenses every game. Has some work to do with regards to rounding out his defensive game and effort levels.
Scherbak is a very creative playmaker, and his 50 assists attest to this. He has excellent offensive-zone vision and is able to find teammates with laser-like passing. His combination of speed, excellent puck protection, willingness to take a hit to make a play or drive to the net adds a little "power forward" to his game as well.
Defensively, Scherbak has come very far this season thanks to his strong work ethic and desire to get better. He is both willing to hit and be hit to make a play and that has helped him become less of a defensive liability for his team.
We like a lot of things about Scherbak- he was a very good player on a very bad team- he had more assists this year than any other teammate had points. He also led the team in goals. He also led all rookies in the league in goals, assists and points. Not bad for a first season in North America. We like his size and think he could fill out a little more and get bigger and stronger for the NHL game. As you can see in the highlights, he's got great hands, is a capable passer or shooter and seems to think the game well- all traits that could serve him- and the Penguins- very well.
The Pens need more talent, this kid has got it. We're not too worried about the "Russian Factor", this is a guy who already left his home to play in North America, and if he's offered a chance at a professional career here- especially aside countryman Evgeni Malkin- why wouldn't he be interested?