The Penguins have only made two first round picks in now the last decade (Kasperi Kapanen in 2014 and Sam Poulin in 2019), which is now up to three after selecting defender Owen Pickering in the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft on Thursday night in Montreal.
Newly re-signed Kris Letang made the pick with some flair in front of his hometown audience in Montreal to announce that the Pens had drafted the WHL defender.
We’ll have plenty more highlights and analysis of the player and what to expect moving forward, even though NHL draft picks are more of a longer-term proposition with no expectation of an immediate impact at the highest level.
Pittsburgh has one of the weakest prospect pools, and won’t have too much of a chance to add to it either. Their next scheduled pick, barring a trade, isn’t until Round 4 tomorrow. The NHL draft resumes at 11am for Rounds 2-7. The Pens lack a pick in the second and third rounds but will have a selection in one of all the latter rounds.
Pickering is a player we profiled quite a bit, given his similarity in size, build, frame, junior league, strong U-18 performance that lined up a lot like Travis Sanheim. Sanheim was Ron Hextall’s first draft pick as a general manager back in Philadelphia. Now he has one a lot like him in Pickering.
Pickering is another player who is moving up the boards and growing, quite literally. He’s recently measuring in at 6’4, making him a much different player and prospect then he was a few years ago. Despite being just a ninth round pick in the WHL bantam draft, Pickering grew a few more inches and played a huge role for Swift Current this year and really turned heads when he was among Canada’s top-3 players at the U-18 tournament. He has been dramatically improving and progressing in recent times and also is seeing his stock on a big rise.
As the Winged Wheel Podcast wrote:
He had a growth spurt later in development after being an undersized mobile defenseman on his way to the WHL. The traits of a being an undersized puck mover are largely still there and Pickering values the time he spent undersized because as he put it, “It gave me the ability to develop the skill side of the game and now I am physically maturing and can bring that element as well.” If he can continue working on his coordination and maintain the mobility and puck skill that he shows at times, the Swift Current defender could make some team look very smart for selecting him on day one of the draft.
Corey Pronman said of Pickering:
Analysis: Pickering’s tools are evident to anyone who watches a game or two. He’s a 6-foot-4 defenseman who skates quite well for his size and has offense. He can carry through the neutral zone to create controlled exits/entries and is good on retrievals. He can also pull up to make a good outlet or seam pass in the O-zone. He can use his size and feet to close on checks efficiently. Pickering’s ascent has been quick, and thus there are some raw aspects with his play with the puck and overall consistency. He projects as a second or third-pair defenseman depending on how much the offense translates.