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Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2019 NHL Draft: defensemen preview

A look at the defensemen who might be around at #21 overall next month for the Pittsburgh Penguins

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Czech Republic v Germany: Quarter Final - 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Slovakia Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images

Last week we took a look at the forwards who might be in the conversation near the 21st overall pick in next month’s 2019 NHL Draft where the Pittsburgh Penguins are scheduled to pick. Now we’ll turn the focus to the defensemen who are in the mix and should be at least on the Pens’ radar as they look to determine which prospect to add to the organization.

(Not considered on account of likelihood of being drafted prior to Pittsburgh’s pick: Bowen Byram, Philip Broberg, Cam York, Victor Soderstrom)

Thomas Harley

Aside from having a cool name, this prospect is roaring up the prospect road (I’m sorry)

But, jokes aside, Corey Pronman of The Athletic had some nice things to say about Harley, ranking him 20th overall.

Harley progressed from a decent prospect to a 25-30 minutes a night defenseman with impressive tools for the Steelheads. When he was on the ice, his team had control of the puck. He’s big, mobile, skilled and smart.

Scott Wheeler only ranked him 29th saying in part:

He’s really mobile for his size, light on his edges and his shot has to be respected (and has room to improve even more in terms of his delivery and follow-through) by opposing teams, which opens up his decent cross-ice vision as an option. But I have concerns about other areas of his game that have mitigated him from consideration in my top-24 tier. The biggest is his play in his own zone (though some of that was a byproduct of workload, the tough competition he was tasked with and the fact that he was playing nearly 30 minutes a night for stretches this season). Harley does a decent job defending the rush with his reach but he lacks physicality in puck battles and plays too passively within D-zone schemes, which can result in some ugly shifts

Almost everyone agrees that while a work in progress, Harley is a very young player (Aug 2001 birthday makes him among the younger players eligible to be drafted this year) and should develop more with time and experience as he grows into some of the physical and offensive tools that a 6’3 defenseman with good skating has.

Sportsnet brief scouting blurb: “Understanding and a willingness to work on his deficiencies will determine his fate.”

Moritz Seider

Pronman has Seider ranked 22nd:

He’s got great athletic tools as a 6-foot-4 defenseman who skates well. He uses his feet to join attacks often and can make plays at speed. Seider’s main criticism from scouts is his lack of standout puck skill and that he won’t be a true power play guy in the NHL

Wheeler ranks Seider a bit lower at 35th:

He’s one of those players who isn’t going to wow you with his offensive upside but has proven he has the skill needed to be more than a tough-minutes option who goes off the glass and out. His size (which still has room to become even stronger, believe it or not) and length define him but he also possesses OK puck handling ability, a wrist shot that has some whip and bend to it

All in all, it looks like Seider is a less offensive and “toolsy” type of first round pick that has a ton of top-end ability or upside. But he does have a big body and well rounded game to go along with decent skating and a right hand shot and that makes for a plenty valuable and intriguing prospect to consider. Seider also got a taste of high level hockey, playing with the Germans in the 2019 World Championships.

Sportsnet brief scouting blurb: “Still tough to determine exactly what he projects to be at the next level, but he’s a big right shot defenceman who can skate.”

Alex Vlasic

Vlasic could be in the conversation, Bob McKenzie’s consensus had him at #23 at mid-season, but Vlasic is also probably on the fringes a bit.

Pronman scouted him at 24th saying in part:

He’s a unique player in that he’s 6-foot-6 and has offensive potential, which makes him very intriguing. I like his hockey sense. There are times I even really like it. He understands how to attack, how to move pucks, when to jump into lanes and how to use his long wingspan to break up plays.

But then a scout like Wheeler wasn’t all that impressed, ranking Vlasic just 78th in his outlook. Pronman offers up the flip side of the coin that might explain why Vlasic isn’t universally ranked high -

Vlasic will have moments where he’s a turnover machine and shows underwhelming puck skills under pressure. He skates quite well for a big man, but there are moments where his game lacks pace. Some evaluators not only believe in him as an NHLer but believe he could be an impact NHLer. Others see the warts and are scared off

Vlasic has a physical edge to go along with what his coach called “his skating is off the charts good (for a big man)”. Add in the hockey sense and some puck moving ability and you get the sense someone might fall for a player like that, especially an old school general manager.

Ville Heinola

Heinola is right about in the Pens’ range, ranked 21st by Wheeler, 24th by McKenzie at mid-season and 28th by Pronman. Says Pronman:

His hockey sense drives his value. Heinola is a calm, poised puck-moving defenseman who generates clean exits and entries with his vision, and makes plays on the man advantage.

There might be concerns and limitations with his straight-line skating, which I personally never really like to see from a smaller defender (or any defender, for that matter) so we’ll have to see how that is scouted out and valued by the league.

And Wheeler (who had him ranked the highest I saw) had the following take as part of his report:

Heinola is who is he because he’s efficient (by that I mean that he makes plays quickly, he doesn’t hesitate, but he does both of those things while still having surveyed the ice ahead of the decision), he quickly earns the trust of his coaches, he’s precise in his execution offensively and he’s compact and careful defensively. But he doesn’t take over games and he’s not going to be a dynamic offensive threat at the next level

Seems like it would be a potentially safe pick due to hockey sense and decisiveness of moving the puck to the right place, but possibly an uninspiring one due to not a huge upside or chance to be a top-line player. At the bottom of the first round though, safe can be good!

Sportsnet brief scouting blurb: “Processes the game well and adapts his play based on the level of competition.”

So there you have it, tune into for the mock and we’ll have the Pens’ pick here next Friday June 7th. Definitely chat us up with your favored prospects now and which guys you would like to see the Pens either try to draft or try to avoid when it’s their turn to make a first round selection.