The Penguins made it official yesterday — Pittsburgh will keep their first round pick this year (15th overall). As a result, the Minnesota Wild are entitled to the Pens’ 2021 first rounder, no matter what it ends up being.
As we discussed earlier in the week, this decision was pretty much a no-brainer. It’s the Pens’ highest natural pick in 14 years, and a 2020 first round pick is far more valuable to where the franchise is right now than a pick next year when their core will be one year older.
So now, the fun begins about what this pick will have in store. While there always in a possibility the Pens could trade the pick for immediate NHL help, they also figure to give strong consideration in finding a prospect to add to their shallow pool of future players.
Here’s the always handy list, compiled by TSN’s Bob McKenzie. McKenzie surveys several scouts and blends the list below as a consensus type of rankings. This isn’t a mock draft and surely won’t be the order that everyone goes off the board, but it’s a good place to start familiarizing ourselves on the names of prospects that may and may not be in the neighborhood of the 15th overall pick.
Given how most expect this draft to sort out, it’s not worth spending a lot of time looking at the top 10 players on this list for the purposes of the Pens’ pick. It’s very unlikely any of them are going to be available still at pick No. 15.
I said 10, because that looks like the level this year. The top 8-9 are probably at one level this year, the names might slightly re-arrange for the draft order but barring a wild turn of events those players are the first ones coming off the board.
It gets interesting in double digits. Goalie Yaroslav Askarov has elite talent, but some are turned off by drafting goalies high. There’s also the “Russian factor” since it can be a struggle or unknown when elite Russian players will be able to become free agents from their KHL ties. Askarov could be about pick 8, 18 or 28 this year, he’s a real wildcard. I don’t think he’s a good fit or makes sense for Pittsburgh, though, they can’t be too high danger with this pick.
One name that stands out is center Anton Lundell. Corey Pronman from The Athletic in fact recently made Lundell the Pens’ selection in a post-lottery mock draft, noting:
Trying to put together intel on the Penguins mid-first round preference was a bit of a pivot for me but I had sources direct me to Lundell and Lukas Reichel as options for them. This organization has a pressing need for defense, so Guhle here wouldn’t surprise me either.
Of Lundell, Craig Button from TSN was keen on his hockey sense and competitiveness and said:
“Very solid two-way centre who can be the conscience defensively for a line but also capable of getting the puck into the right places and on the right sticks to create offence.”
That sounds pretty good to me. The Penguins have only used one first/second round pick on a center in well over a decade (Fillip Hallander in 2018), they’ve kind of coasted on the laurels of having Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin and company for too long. Adding a center feels pretty appealing at a time like this.
Sticking with names Pronman heard, German forward Lukas Reichel is a winger. Button listed Ondrej Palat as a comparable playing style and said of Reichel:
“Skilled, smart winger who can skate and make plays. In the offensive zone, he can create opportunities with his quickness and is equally good at making a pass for a goal or shooting for the net.”
Kaiden Guhle, a 6’2 left shooting defenseman who can really skate, is a name I feel like we are going to hear a lot tied to the Pens in the coming weeks when it comes to mock drafts and projections from prognosticators across the internet. Button gave Guhle 5/5 marks on skating and competitiveness and said:
“Excellent skater with the balance, power and leverage to be forceful defensively and with the speed and quickness to move the puck up the ice. Physical, territorial and competitive in his approach.”
Other names that stand out to me after a minimal amount of research from McKenzie’s list include Dawson Mercer (#13), Seth Jarvis (#18) and Connor Zary (#22). I’m on that center kick.
My bud Jesse Marshall is already on the Zary hype-train, and if he likes Zary, that’s good enough to put him on my radar.
I talked some about Connor Zary yesterday and got a lot of questions about his skating. His stride is sort of J. Staal-ish. I don't think he's slow. Look at him go end-to-end here, I think you'll come away with a similar impression. pic.twitter.com/Vgr1lI7fR2— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) August 11, 2020
Button on Zary:
“The definition of a Swiss Army knife-type player. Very good sense and skills but his understanding of all situations and ability to contribute in all of them defines him as substance over flash.”
Dawson Mercer has been another one to catch my eye, and like Zary seems to be a pretty versatile and well-rounded forward prospect.
Button on Mercer:
“Dawson is a plug-and-play player. He can play centre or wing, and that adaptability allows him to move around the lineup and contribute. Competitive with very good skills.”
Several of you have asked me about Dawson Mercer as a potential at 15 overall for the Penguins. It's certainly a good call. Right-handed center with a shot that doesn't get enough discussion. Take a look at this thing. Ridiculous. Head up, eyes and hands talking to each other. pic.twitter.com/bmhxik1No6— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) August 12, 2020
Jesse mentioned to him right now that he liked Zary a bit more than Mercer due to penalty killing and defensive play. Based on McKenzie’s rankings, scouts seemed to prefer the inverse with Mercer ranking overall higher.
Which is part of the Pens’ major challenge picking 15. A team with a top 8 pick this year is going to feel pretty good about getting a future impact player, no matter who they walk out with. A team in the Pens position right now, there probably is a future NHL All-Star still on the board at No 15. However there will also be several players on the board and picked in the latter half of the first round that will develop into barely NHL caliber players, if they do at all.
The art of drafting is going to be for the Pens to figure out before the October 9th draft which player, be it a guy like Lundell, Zary, Mercer or Guhle that is going to be a future star. If they can identify or maybe even get a bit lucky with the development process, this pick will do them a lot of good across the decade of the 2020’s.
Since there isn’t too much going on for the Pens, we certainly will have time to take a dive into learning plenty about what could be a wide range of options for them on the board at pick 15.