This time of year can be an exciting one for NHL free agents coming out of the college ranks and looking to turn pro. These types of players are usually late bloomers who weren’t drafted but have developed into pro prospects during their college years.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have used this route in the past to add players like Zach Aston-Reese and Conor Sheary, among others. Signing these types of players are great for teams that often trade draft picks, and the Pens are a popular destination for the FA’s to pick, because Pittsburgh has done well at giving opportunities to youngsters. It looks like they have another target for this year.
Hearing the Pittsburgh Penguins have landed prized undrafted free agent forward Drew O'Connor from Dartmouth. #pens— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) March 9, 2020
O’Connor was ranked the fourth best available prospect by TSN, with Servavalli’s scouting report:
4. LW Drew O’Connor - Sophomore, Dartmouth
6-foot-3, 200 pounds
Stats: 29 GP, 21 goals, 11 assists, 32 points
The ECAC’s Co-Player of the Year has sprouted into a can’t-miss find. O’Connor was just 5-foot-8 at age 18, a big reason he wasn’t on NHL radars in his draft year, but has grown to 6-foot-3 while playing for the appropriately named for the Big Green. NHL teams have flocked to watch O’Connor, who they see as a legitimate NHL power forward prospect with a nose for the net. His 38 goals (in 68 games) are the third most in the country over the last two seasons – with a 16 per cent shooting percentage this season – but his overall game has grown as much as his body. There is definitely no shortage of NHL interest in O’Connor, but there is no guarantee the sophomore will decide to leave school early.
The Athletic’s Corey Pronman had O’Connor as the 16th best current free agent (his listings also considered European players):
Just two seasons ago, O’Connor was playing in the NCDC for the Boston Jr. Bruins, and now he looks on track to get an NHL contract. O’Connor is a 6-foot-3 forward with good hands and a quality skating stride. He competes well and projects to have some two-way value as a pro. I wouldn’t call him a true playmaker, but he’s got some offense in his game because of his hands and scoring ability. He makes the odd crafty play, but he’s more of a goal scorer and has been one of the top shot generators in the NCAA. While he skates well, I wish he would play a little faster at times.
It will be interesting to see how things go for O’Connor. Often at this time of year, NHL teams (mostly non-playoff teams) will allow players to jump into the NHL to burn games and start the clock of their entry level contract. Pittsburgh probably wouldn’t go that route, but after the success of John Marino, who know at this point.
O’Connor could also be the next Thomas Di Pauli and not make much of an NHL impact at all. Never know, but for a team without many high-end players, it’s always worth it to see The Pens don’t have any 6’3, 200+ pound power forward prospects in the system, so assuming they do sign O’Connor he presents a pretty good prospect add to the organization right now.