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PensBurgh Top 25 Under 25: #12 - Drew O’Connor

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The young forward got an abbreviated look in his first professional season. What can he do for an encore?

NHL: FEB 06 Penguins at Islanders Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Our annual, 2021 version of the top players under the age of 25 in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.

2021 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: Graduates and Departed

#25: Santeri Airola
#24: Jan Drozg
#23: Will Reilly
#22: Clayton Phillips
#21: Chase Yoder
#20: Kirill Tankov
#19: Raivis Ansons
#18: Lukas Svejkovsky
#17: Judd Caulfield
#16: Jonathan Gruden
#15: Kasper Bjorkqvist
#14: Jordy Bellerive
#13: Cam Lee

#12: Drew O’Connor, LW
2020 Ranking: #8
Age: 23 (June 9, 1998)
Height/Weight: 6’3”/190 lbs.
Acquired Via: Undrafted free agent (Signed March 2020)

Highlights:

O’Connor’s first and only NHL point of his career thus far came as a secondary assist on this Jason Zucker goal. You know what they say? “You never forget your first.” And for O’Connor, even if it was a puck that careened off his skate, the point counts all the same.

These highlights show that O’Connor was not a fish out of water when he was sent down to the AHL last year. With a lot of these prospects, we often see them become very positive contributors at the AHL level, but fail to take that next step when they get promoted to the NHL.

The jury is definitely still out on the 23-year-old, but these are encouraging signs if you’re watching from afar. Continuously getting contributions from these undrafted collegiate players is nothing but a positive when you’re a cap-strapped team like the Penguins.

Elite Prospects Resume:

Updated Scouting Reports (via DobberProspects):

PNHLe is a value that projects a prospect’s point potential at the NHL level. It takes into consideration point production (i.e., points-per-game), the league a prospect plays in, their age and the position they play.
DobberProspects

What can we gauge from this chart? O’Connor does have an offensive pulse (as you’ll see below), but with such limited game action spread across multiple leagues last season, what kind of player are we really getting here? O’Connor fits the mold of a power forward standing at 6’3, but will he be throwing his weight around? Or, like Radim Zohorna, will O’Connor continue to play a swifter game with his larger frame? Certainly something to keep an eye on as we march towards 2021-22.

Season Review:

D.O.C. came into the 2020-21 training camp with a chance to make the opening night roster a la John Marino before him. Here’s what head coach Mike Sullivan had to say at the time regarding O’Connor’s play in college. Quotes via the WBS Penguins website:

“I know our hockey ops department was really excited to sign him and make him part of our organization,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “These guys rave about the progress he made throughout his tenure at Dartmouth and the possibility of him becoming a real solid pro.”

“I think we have the track record to show that we believe in that,” Sullivan said. “A guy like John Marino is an example of that last year. Coming out of training camp, we were impressed with the camp that he had and he earned his way into the lineup, and Jim [Rutherford] had to make some moves to facilitate that process.”

Late January saw O’Connor get the call to the big leagues while the Penguins were dealing with their yearly injury woes.

O’Connor’s ice time was in decline soon after and by mid-February, he was sent to the farm to hone his craft. While O’Connor’s short stint in the NHL wasn’t an overly impressive one, his play with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins was much more noteworthy.

The Chatham, New Jersey native operated at nearly a point-per-game pace, registering seven goals and 19 points in 20 AHL contests. Additionally, in the ten games he played with the Manglerud Star before the NHL season began, O’Connor notched six goals and 10 points in just six games played.

With how disjointed professional hockey was last season, having O’Connor marinate in the AHL again for the 2021-22 season wouldn’t be the worst case scenario. He can certainly be called on if/when injury inevitably rears its ugly head, but my money is on the winger spending the majority of his time in Wilkes-Barre.

O’Connor began his AHL tenure playing fourth-line minutes, but found his way onto the second line by season’s end. That’s an impressive jump in just 20 games. If history is a reliable guide, he projects to be a point-producer and an important cog the in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton machine.

Continuing to round out his game will be Drew O’Connor’s number one priority, but time is on his side heading into his second professional season.