After making just two picks in the first six rounds of the draft (forward Tristan Broz in the second round followed by defensman Isaac Belliveau in the fifth) the Pittsburgh Penguins completed the 2021 NHL draft with three selections in the seventh and final round.
The commonality was size in the form of height for teenage additions. At the beginning of the round, the Pens grabbed Ryan McCleary a 6’0 defenseman from the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. For a second pick, Pittsburgh took another defenseman in the 6’5 University of Wisconsin commit Daniel Laatsch. Towards the end of the draft, 6’1 Russian forward Kirill Tankov ended the picks for the Pens.
While many are fairly lanky (as 17-18 year olds tend to be), every Pittsburgh pick in 2021 stands 6’ foot or taller, in what could be circumstance or a concerted effort by new GM Ron Hextall to shade towards adding more size to the organization’s prospect ranks.
A bit on each of the seventh rounders:
—McCleary is a very young player who won’t turn 18 until the draft. If he was born a few days later he would have been in the 2022 draft class. McCleary played 17 games in the shortened WHL season notching seven points (2G+5A). Elite Prospects has the following brief scouting report:
Transition’s where McCleary’s impact is most felt, and it’s through activation and deception rather than explosiveness. He deceives forecheckers with his eyes, looks to pass through pressure to create space up the ice, and accelerates out of his passes to join the rush
He’s very young, raw but is a right hand shot with decent upside. He’s listed at 154 pounds, which is about Jake Guentzel-esque on draft day for being light. McCleary has a lot of filling out to do, but that’s just fine for a late round pick with a few more years of junior hockey ahead of him.
—Daniel Laatsch is already a large human at 6’5, 183 pounds. Laatsch got a mention by The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler who had one scout point out Laatsch as a possible under-rated player in this draft. Laatsch is a product of the US National Development team and also played in the USHL with Sioux City in 2020-21. The Sioux City GM Andy Johnson tweeted Laatsch was: “one of the most reliable day-to-day players I’ve ever been around,” which is nice praise. For now, Laatsch is a lanky, positionally solid defender off to Wisconsin for likely 3-4 years of development.
—The Pens’ final pick was a Russian center Kirill Tankov, just days after the organization established a presence by hiring a Russian scout. This marks the first Pittsburgh draft pick of a player that played in Russia since 2008, and only the second Russian-trained player the Pens have drafted since Evgeni Malkin. Tankov scored 43 points (18G+25A) in 52 games last season in the MHL (which is the minor league for the KHL, basically Russia’s equivalent of what the AHL is to the NHL). Tankov went undrafted in 2020, and he’s got at least one internet scout that likes him:
218. Pens take overage SKA-Varyagi No. 1 center Kirill Tankov. Was in my top-100 last year. Two-way type and legit 1-on-1 skill. Scores in a bunch of ways but also drives possesion. That team was always out-gunned but he held his own and was consistent while facing top lines.— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) July 24, 2021
We’ll see in the years to come how these players progress and what happens next for their careers. For Pittsburgh the 2021 entry draft, like many before it, didn’t net a ton of talent to the organization with trades that have added to the immediate NHL team now instead. That could be changing soon, the Pens still hold their first and second round picks in 2022. They could always elect to trade one or both away in the next year, but the future might hold more “building through the draft” under Ron Hextall.