At pick number 93 in the 2017 NHL Draft (3rd round) the Penguins selected American born defenseman (and future Minnesota Golden Gopher) Clayton Phillips.
Phillips is listed at 5'10 and 180 pounds, with a 9/9/1999 birthday that makes him among the youngest of players available in this draft (had he been born after 9/15, Phillips wouldn't have been eligible until 2018). I think that is probably the most important aspect to remember with this pick - we are talking about an incredibly young and green player who still has 1 more year in the USHL before he goes onto college for at least another 2-3 years.
So he might not even be turning pro until 2021, which seems far away but gives him plenty of time for development.
SBN College Hockey has a great scouting report on him, so let's see what they think of Phillips:
What I Like
Phillips is really strong with his lower body and has great balance when skating. There’s very little unnecessary or wasted movement , which allows him to get around the ice smoothly and efficiently. That calm lower body makes him effective both moving forward with the puck on his stick, and when he’s moving backwards and defending against the rush.
Phillips is a former forward that moved back to the blue line at a fairly late age, and some of the offensive skills that he utilized at forward carried over to his play on the blue line. Phillips is a smooth puckhandler that can stickhandle his way out of pressure if need be.
Ironically, when Phillips played forward, his biggest weakness was passing the puck. But when he moved back to the blue line, where he could evaluate the play in front of him, he became a really superb passer that was excellent at starting the offensive rush. He’s great at getting his head up and finding a teammate to get the puck to.
What I Don’t Like
As a converted forward, Phillips’ defensive coverage is just okay. He’s a strong one-on-one defender, but sometimes has the tendency to get caught out of position in his own zone. That should continue to improve with experience, but might be a red flag for teams.
It’s easy to point to a lot of things Phillips does really well taken individually, but when you add them all up, it never seems to amount to as much as it should. He put up 20 points this season with Fargo in the USHL, which isn’t terrible, but he didn’t quite take over games and put up offensive numbers like one would hope from a high draft pick. And it’s probably not entirely his fault, but Phillips’ teams always seem to underperform a bit compared to expectations.
Phillips isn’t overly big and prefers to play a finesse game. He’s not going to be much of a physical presence. That’s not a huge deal. If Phillips makes it to the NHL, he’s going to earn his paycheck with his skating and passing ability. But it is something worth pointing out.
And their projection:
Phillips will return to Fargo for another season next year, which is probably the right move. That will give him a better opportunity to develop his skills as a puck-moving offensive-minded defenseman once he’s more comfortable as a junior hockey veteran. After that, he’ll head to the University of Minnesota. He may have to wait his turn for a year or two, but eventually, the hope would be that he develops into a power play quarterback for the Gophers, and that those skills carry over to the pro level some day. At this point, it’s probably not realistic to suggest he will develop into a top pairing power play quarterback at the NHL level, but it is reasonable to hope he becomes a solid puck-moving defenseman that maybe contributes as a second unit power play guy.
This will be a very long-term project type of draft pick, one to let marinate and develop for a while and down the road we will see how things turn out for Phillips when he's ready to move onto the pro level.