After making two pretty well-regarded second round picks in the 2018 NHL draft, the Pittsburgh Penguins completed the weekend with two more picks deeper in the draft. Pittsburgh selected forward Justin Almeida with pick #129 and then forward Liam Gorman at #177. The Pens traded their final pick to Vegas for a 7th rounder next year.
Almeida was actually highlighted here on Pensburgh last week, in the preview about the Pens strategy of drafting overage player. Sure enough, they continued that strategy by taking Almeida here in the 5th; a skilled player who lit up the WHL last season.
Defending Big D (the SBN Dallas blog) scouted Almeida as such:
What Almeida lacks in strength and separation speed, he more than makes up for in vision and playmaking ability. He scored 98 points in 72 games this season, many of them of the highlight-reel variety. Could be a dangerous offensive player if he can fill out his frame.
In the below highlight video you can see some so-so skating but certainly a ton of hands and creativity. The last highlight, a breakaway backhand move in overtime is really sublime.
Smaller players that make it to the NHL (think: Conor Sheary, Tyler Johnson, Mats Zuccarello, Martin St. Louis, and on and on) always seem to be plus or at least above average skaters. It will be interesting to see if Almeida can improve on this aspect and how his game will translate as a professional.
It’s totally unfair to compare a 5th rounder to what ended up as a Hall of Famer, but Almeida sort of brings to mind a liiiitttle bit of Mark Recchi there as a smallish, offensive-minded winger from Western Canada, #8, left-handed, kind of a choppy little skating stride. Not saying Almeida will reach the level of 1500+ NHL points by any means, but just watching the highlights that comparison seemed somewhat there.
As a 5th round pick it seems a good risk to take to add such a productive and clearly offensively talented players even with his limitations.
A player with no such size (or age) limitations is the Pens final pick of the day, forward Liam Gorman. Gorman, just past his 18th birthday and listed some places as 6’3, is heading to Boston University next year and certainly a type of “lottery pick” type of selection. He may be a ticket worth something in a few years, or perhaps not, but it will take a while for development to happen.
SBN College Hockey was very complimentary of Gorman in May 2017, listing him as the then-top uncommitted forward recruit in his birth year with the following writeup:
1. Liam Gorman, #12 Red, Shoots Left, 6-3/192 - He’s grown and his game has really taken off. He is an explosive skater and looks like a freight train coming down the sheet. He has a heavy shot, is willing to go to the dirty areas and plays a heavy game. He doesn’t score as much as some might like, but that will come. He’s slated to be back at St. Sebastian’s. He’s on Chicago’s USHL affiliate list.
6’3, explosive skater, heavy shot, dirty areas....Yeah that’s enough to make a pro scout drool right there.
But, again, patience will be needed before any sort of pro career begins. Looks like Gorman is joining BU in 2019-20, he will likely play for the Chicago Steel of the USHL next season.
Draft picks taken late had long odds to make NHL impacts. But these two Pens picks seem to make sense and have as good a chance as any to grow and potentially progress into pro level players, at least at the AHL level and then from there, time will tell. They are taking very different paths with Almeida a 19-year old who is already established as one of the top offensive players in a Major Junior league and Gorman a very long-term US collegiate prospect that will take time to grow and develop into his 6’3 frame.