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NHL Mock Draft 2022: Pittsburgh Penguins select Ivan Miroshnichenko with No. 21 pick

We take a big swing with a big risk to try and get the Penguins a potential star forward

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? The Penguins have needs literally everywhere with their prospect depth chart, any direction would add a nice prospect. So in the 2022 SBN Mock Draft, we decided to take a big swing with a high-reward type of player, who comes with significant questions.

Such a bold move could pay off handsomely but it could also amount to a total loss. At this point in the draft, why settle for “hitting a double” with a future middle-of-the-NHL-lineup player, when you can risk a strike out to swing for the fences and a home run? Setting the baseball analogy aside, with the 21st overall pick, the Penguins will select forward Ivan Miroshnichenko.

Pre-draft rankings

NHL Central Scouting: #11 (EU Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic): #12
Craig Button (TSN): #15
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #19
McKeen’s Hockey: #19
Blue Jackets website Consensus Scouting Ranking: #21
Dobber Prospects: #25
Sportsnet: #27
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #28
Elite Prospects: #33
Winged Wheel Podcast: #34

Miroshnichenko is considered the biggest question mark or wild card in the draft for just exactly where he will be picked. You can tell from above with rankings all over the place with the experts figuring out just exactly where he best fits and where value versus question marks slot him.

Earlier in the season, Miroshnichenko was considered a top prospect and potential top-5 draft pick. But that took a turn in January, Miroshnichenko’s season abruptly ended with a shocking Hodgkin’s disease diagnosis and getting treatments. Earlier this month, he was cleared to resume practicing and presumably is anticipating being able to start the 2022-23 season in Russia with things on the upswing in that scary development.

The rundown

Position: LW
Vitals: 6’1”, 185 lbs
Team: Omskie Krylya (Russia - VHL)
Statistics: 31 GP, 10G+6A

On the ice, Miroshnichenko is undoubtedly one of the most talented offensive players in the draft, outside of questions about health. His shot is a high-end weapon that can score from anywhere on the ice. Though he doesn’t have the exact same stature/build as the 6’3, 225 pound Ilya Kovalchuk, there’s a lot in Miroshnichenko’s game that brings to mind something of this generation’s Kovalchuk. It comes down to that shot...My goodness, that shot. Just take a look, certain players have the gift when the puck comes off the stick and Miroshnichenko has it in spades.

Habs Eyes on the Prize said it best when reviewing the above:

it’s a testament to Miroshnichenko’s talent that he makes scoring seem so fluid and natural. He’s able to quickly identify lanes for his shot, pulling back on the puck to go around a defender before firing a shot to the back of the net.

His skating allows him to navigate through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone, weaving around defenders to find open space to utilize his release and terrorize goaltenders. While not a speedster by any means, Miroshnichenko still creates plenty of space with a strong North-South type of skating, akin to the classic power forward archetype. He isn’t one to shy away from the physical parts of the game either, as he will throw his own body around to make plays happen down the ice.

His style would have made his transition to the North American game in the USHL very easy, but even staying in Russia hasn’t slowed him down and has likely forced some evolution to his skillset in the last year.

Like about any young player, there are some gaps and weaknesses in his game. Dobber Hockey highlights on some of the lesser parts of his game, which are worth pointing out as well.

While Mirosnichenko’s offensive toolkit is great, he lacks a lot in other areas of the game. He could’ve been even higher in our rankings, but he has red flags around his game as well. His game is heavily based on skill but it lacks a lot of consistency and competitiveness. However, inconsistency might be a thing that was visible also due to his illness, as well as his poor physical condition before the World Juniors, which was the reason he was left out of the team.

It would make sense that the undiagnosed illness robbed him of some energy on the ice when people observe him and no one realized what was going on. But two-way play for a gifted offensive player is not a new or unusual concern at early stages of development.

The venerable Bob McKenzie had this to say about “Miro” (everyone is just going to call him Miro in America, I presume).

Miroshnichenko is the draft’s biggest wild card. He started the season as a consensus Top 5 pick but now there’s no telling when he might be selected. In addition to the shadow of sanctions due to the war with Ukraine, Miroshnichenko had to overcome a series of injuries that slowed him, and then was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

By all accounts, his treatments went well, and he’s been cleared to resume both on and off ice training, but team doctors and/or team owners could have as much say on Miroshnichenko’s draft status as the scouts or general managers.

Teams that have multiple first-round picks are seen as well positioned to perhaps make value selections on Russian players who might be available later than they would under normal circumstances.

The truth is no one seems to know for sure how the Russians will be considered in this year’s draft.

This pick will be a gamble for an NHL team to make. That might go doubly so for the Penguins who have an organizational memory of Evgeni Malkin being persuaded under a level of emotional duress to extend his contract with his Russian team back in the day. The team was also in possession of his passport and rebuffed his attempt to get it back. It took a dramatic clandestine escape and something of a defection to get Malkin to America. In today’s world and climate it remains unknown just how or when a NHL team drafting Miroshnichenko could get him on their team. The memories of a Malkin situation or others where players end up remaining in Russia for multiple years after their draft (Kirill Kaprizov, Ilya Sorokin, Evgeny Kuzentsov among others) is perhaps as big a factor as ever, given outside pressures involved.

As of now, according to Elite Prospects, Miroshnichenko is under contract for the next two seasons with Omsk through 2023-24, and presumably “free” (as of now anyways) to join a NHL team for the start of the 2024-25 season, when he will be 20 years old. If that happens, Miroshnichenko would match Malkin as coming over to the NHL in his draft+3 season, which NHL teams would find acceptable. It’s just the potential uncertainty beyond that point that the player may remain in Russia that would have to give some pause when weighing against the talent seen on the ice.

That risk will scare some teams away, and possibly in the real world the Penguins could be in that boat. Or maybe not — Pittsburgh did just hire a Russia area scout in 2021, after all and do have some small presence in the area.

Point being, this is a pick that is a lot easier to make in a mock draft than a real draft, no jobs are on the line here so it’s easy to swing for the fences. It could be considered unlikely and a prediction, but more of an example of an aggressive move that could one day pay off very handsomely.

Pronman compared Miroshnichenko to Gabriel Landeskog. Just picture Sidney Crosby going into his salad years dishing the puck to a power forward with a great shot and the offense to score. That’s what one pictures for Miroshnichenko through the cloudiness of his future.

It’s a risk, but it could end up netting the Penguins a player we look back in 10 years as one of the best players taken in the 2022 NHL draft. For us, it proved to be worth the risk. Next week, we’ll see which NHL team is on that same wavelength.