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Pittsburgh Penguins 2021 NHL Draft preview

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The Penguins draft today and add to the organization

2019 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

The NHL draft goes today for Rounds 2-7 and the Penguins get to add some young players to the organization. Here’s where the team enters the day with their choices:

  • Round 2 (58th overall)
  • Round 5 (154th overall)
  • Round 7 (194th overall) [via Anaheim]
  • Round 7 (215th overall) [via Washington]
  • Round 7 (218th overall)

The second round pick is Pittsburgh’s marquee selection today, and is Ron Hextall’s first chance to add to the club through the draft. After taking goalies in rounds 2 and 3 last year, one would think for sure he would be going to add some skaters.

It’s always a good idea to take the best player available, and the Pens’ organization is really just thirsty for any young talent. Defenseman? Sure! Center? Sounds great! Winger with skill? Oh yeah! Some size in any place? Why not?

58 is a really hard spot to project where the Pens might actually take. We’re talking players who are 17-18 years old, and in the past 16 months have had various levels of interruptions in their games. In a normal year, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see a pick from what appears to be a “reach” by the draft rankings. But draft rankings are all we have right now.

The best list of any out there is the annual Bob McKenzie TSN consensus ranking of his talks with scouts. Here’s the players about in the Pens’ range:

To repeat, it wouldn’t be shocking — at all — if the 58th pick isn’t in the shot above. But a couple of names stand out.

Our bud Jesse Marshall at The Athletic wrote extensively about the Finnish defenseman Aleksi Heimosalmi. And surely there is something very poetic and fitting about drafting a smooth skating, offensive-minded right handed defenseman at 58 overall. Here’s what Jesse said:

I really like fluid-skating defensemen who can control the game in either zone by virtue of their mobility, and Heimosalmi is that and a bit more.

Defensively speaking, Heimosalmi uses his speed and strong pivot ability to keep a great gap on opposing forwards. His active stick makes him difficult to beat in one-on-one situations. While he may lack the traditional reach that makes the foundation of a strong gap, his foot speed and overall quickness are a fine substitute in this regard. Heimosalmi isn’t overly physical, but his active stick again comes into play in his work down low and in front of the net.

Heimosalmi is very deliberate offensively and often looks like a fourth forward on the ice with his approach to the breakout. He takes chances when warranted but is more than comfortable taking the puck on a stroll for himself and creating breakouts single-handedly as a result. One callout specific to his skating is his posture: strong, deliberate strides with his head up surveying the ice.

That all sounds great, we’ll see if he’s even on the board at 58, but he sounds like a quality pick at the end of the second round.

Other players of interest, at least at a glance:

  • Oliver Kapanen was ranked 52nd by McKenzie’s list. If that name sounds familiar, it should, he’s the cousin of Penguin winger Kasperi Kapanen. Oliver is a center and about the size of his cousin (6’1, 179) and known for his offense.
  • Colton Dach, ranked 61st by McKenzie, is another intriguing player. His brother, Kirby Dach, was a top pick a couple of years ago. Colton is a 6’4 winger who shoots the puck among the best in this class and out of the WHL.
  • Keeping with familiar names, Josh Doan checks in at #66 for McKenzie. He is the son of longtime Arizona Coyote Shane Doan. Like dear old dad, Josh has some size (6’2, 176) and showed a lot of offensive touch in the USHL last season. He also has the Doan name, so you know he’s good on the forecheck and a tenacious competitor. He’s off to Arizona State next season.
  • Roman Schmidt is a 6’5/6’6 physical defender, who is also a right shot who will be heading to the OHL out of the US National Development team. If the Pens are looking for size and strength, Schmidt would be a player that stands out for obvious reasons.
  • Matthew Knies is another player who would add a big-body element already at 6’3, 205 as an 18 year old forward. He is a two-way winger that is good off the puck and headed to the University of Minnesota.
  • Finally, Dylan Duke is a player I’m keeping an eye on today. Many drafting services have him ranked in the 30-40 range. However, McKenzie (who surveys actual scouts) has Duke at 78. It only takes one team to like a player for him to be an early second round pick, but I think Duke is a player that just might be there at 58 for the taking. A 5’10, 180 center, Duke is offensive-minded and goes to the net and scores a lot. He’s heading to the University of Michigan next season and is probably more of a longer range prospect, but his skill and scoring ability make him an intriguing piece to watch out for.

It’ll be interesting to see where the Pens go at 58. A player like Heimosalmi, Dach, Doan or Duke would pretty much instantly become the best non-signed prospect in the very shallow Pittsburgh system. However, again, it can’t be stressed enough that plenty of these players could be off the board by 58, and even if so, it’s likely the Pens’ draft board doesn’t reflect this exactly.

Still, Pittsburgh should add a fairly exciting prospect in the second round and gain a bit more depth for the organization. It’s probably not worth reading into too much if they draft a 6’5 defenseman or 5’10 skilled center as to what the Pens will do strategically under the new regime with Ron Hextall. With a team this bare for young players, all they should be doing is trying to identify which player available will be the best and take him. Then, the fun part will be watching over the years as to how they develop.