Back to the countdown:
Here’s what you may have missed -
#20 Connor Hall, 19 years old, defenseman, Kitchener Rangers (OHL), 3rd round pick, 2016
Hall was the player chosen in the pick the Penguins got from New Jersey in exchange for Beau Bennett. So, naturally, Hall’s season ended in December after just 17 games under his belt after undergoing a shoulder surgery.
Hall signed with the AHL WB/S Pens in an amateur tryout in the spring, but the plan was to have him around the team, not playing in any games (which he didn’t). So it’s back to the OHL for another year, and a very critical year at that in his draft+2 season.
Known as a 6’2, 190 pound more physical defenseman (his OHL coach and former Penguin player Jay McKee called Hall a “throwback player” shortly after the draft last year), it will be interesting to see what, if anything, Hall is able to do as one of the older players in his league.
It would be a good sign if the reports are he’s healthy, dominant and controlling play. His offensive stats have never jumped off the page, but if they ever are to look promising this would be the season to see if he is able to produce a little bit and get some positive momentum for his career.
#19 Clayton Phillips, 17 years old, defenseman, Fargo Force (USHL), 3rd round pick, 2017
Judging where players could end up is so difficult. Phillips turns 18 years old next month. Where is he going to be in 5 years? Could be in the NHL. Could be not even in organized hockey in North America. Or anywhere in between. How do you rank that? Somewhere in the middle I guess and then we’ll see how he goes.
Here is what SBN College Hockey had as a pre-draft profile of Phillips’ strengths:
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.
Naturally, a player at the very infancy of his career (he won’t even be going to NCAA for the University of Minnesota until 2018-19) there is a lot to work on. SBNCH listed a lack of physicality, some underwhelming defensive results and overall “just OK” defensive play as items that will need to be addressed and developed in the years to come.
#18 Niclas Almari, defenseman, 19 years old, HPK (Finland) 5th round pick, 2016
Almari is a player who’s seeming to stand out to me. Last year in his Age-18 season he spent half the season in Finland’s top league, competing against professionals and grown men, and he played very well in the playoffs in the lower league. That always seems like a promising sign. He’s played well in brief glimpses in the summer prospect camps, and was also signed to an ATO for WB/S in the spring.
He’s known as a smooth-skating, positionally sound defenseman who doesn’t make flashy plays or lead breakouts with his legs but a good all-around player. In a sense, he sounds like a young Brian Dumoulin-type of defender (though at 6’1, 180 Almari is physically much lesser than the 6’4, 220 Dumoulin).
Almari still has a way to go, but it’s encouraging to see him come to America and get ingrained a bit with the Pens organization. He needs and will get more time to develop but he’s certainly looking like a guy who will be in the AHL full-time in the future to see how he develops and we’ll go from there.
#17 Kaspar Bjorkqvist, forward, 20 years old, Providence College, 2nd round pick 2016
In his first year in America, Bjorkqvist had a lot to learn on and off the ice. From the PG this summer:
“I was expecting to do more, to score more points, and be a bigger contributor for the team,” [Bjorqvist] said. “At the same time I also think I helped the team at some points, and I learned a lot, and that’s what I have to take forward next year. Try to be more productive, but at the same time try to play the same good defensive game.”
Of course, players come to the U.S. from overseas all the time, and many still find success. There’s no reason Bjorkqvist couldn’t have excelled.
With that said, it’s also not an indictment that a 19-year old posted so-so numbers in his first season away from home. He called it a great learning experience.
We’ll see what Bjorkqvist takes from that learning experience, including remember adjusting to smaller North American rinks as well as living away from home for the first time. Often times players in NCAA can experience a huge jump from a prior year and it wouldn’t be too shocking for Bjorkqvist to start to put things together.
In 2015-16, his draft year, Bjorkqvist scored 66 points in 45 games in the Finnish junior league, being named the top forward in the league. Pittsburgh will hope he can get more to that level in his sophomore campaign at Providence.
#16 Anthony Angello, center, 21 years old, Cornell University, 5th round pick 2014
A budding power forward, shutdown center type who still has some offensive pop, Angello enjoyed a successful sophomore season in 2016-17 at Cornell.
Angello earned some praise last month from then-development coach Mark Recchi for this summer’s prospect camp:
Recchi singled out free-agent center Adam Johnson, recent signee Zach Aston-Reese, 2014 fifth-round pick Anthony Angello and 2014 fourth-round pick Sam Lafferty as players who stood out
Always good to be singled out like that and with the abrasive, physical style that Angello plays, it’s a shame he’s not about 2-3 years further down the path so that he could be an immediate candidate for Pittsburgh’s NHL center depth issues. Alas, that’s not to be at this time, but one would think that signing Angello to a pro contract should be an organizational goal, lest he go back to Cornell for 2018-19 and potentially go the Jimmy Vesey UFA route afterwards.