At No. 5 on our list we have Drew O’Connor, who garnered attention last season when he racked up five points (3-2—5) in his first four Penguins games of the season.
#5: Drew O’Connor
Age: 24 (June 9, 1998)
Height/Weight: 6’3”/190 lbs.
Acquired Via: Signed to 1-year, 750k contract on March 12
O’Connor got off to a roaring start to the 2021-22 season.
The then-23-year-old racked up five points (three goals and two assists) in his first four games of the campaign, and especially shone during the Penguins’ 7-1 rout of the visiting Maple Leafs on October 23.
The Penguins’ roster was so decimated by injury and illness, O’Connor was moved up to play as the team’s second-line center— and he delivered by scoring twice.
One glove? ONE GOAL!— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 23, 2021
Drew O'Connor cannot be stopped. pic.twitter.com/3U3BbV4EFn
Sidney Crosby returned to the lineup in November, bumping out O’Connor for a stretch. Intermittent recalls were interrupted by a COVID-19 diagnosis and a collapsed lung, and O’Connor didn’t register any points in 18 more NHL appearances.
On the surface, five points in 18 games isn’t particularly noteworthy, but many of those were non-consecutive appearances interrupted by injury and illness. Plus, O’Connor racked up 32 points (12-20—32) in just 33 AHL games in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
It’s clear O’Connor is near the top of the Penguins’ list as to who to call up from the farm team when there is an injury in the NHL, and at a league-minimum $750k, O’Connor can slide in under the cap if needed. He may get the chance to string together more of a complete season in 2022-23.
Drew O'Connor's 12th of the year puts WBS up 6-3. That's 6 different goal scorers from WBS.— Taylor Haase (@TaylorHaasePGH) April 16, 2022
Assists to Radim Zohorna and Anthony Angello. pic.twitter.com/BayCLJ8pql
Enjoy the Drew O'Connor goal that got the Penguins on the board in beautiful slow-motion pic.twitter.com/Kl5uDyqm0R— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 8, 2021
RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU LOVE DREW O'CONNOR pic.twitter.com/dhgbPGaO4i— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 24, 2021
O’Connor has two qualities which make him particularly well-suited for a fourth-line role with the Penguins: his 6-foot-3 frame, which allows him to shoulder his way past defenders, and his positioning, which often leaves him in the perfect net-front position for deflections and tap-ins.
Back in 2020, when O’Connor was an NCAA free agent coming out of Dartmouth, TSN’s Frank Seravalli said teams considered O’Connor “a legitimate NHL power forward prospect with a nose for the net” whose “overall game has grown as much as his body.” Two years later, O’Connor looks like he’s beginning to live up to those expectations.
Nick Horwat of Sports Illustrated expects 50 NHL games from O’Connor in 2022-23. CapFriendly predicts the Penguins’ fourth line will be composed of O’Connor, Teddy Blueger and Danton Heinen next season— but O’Connor could be competing with former Penguin Josh Archibald and new trade Ryan Poehling for the spot.
What do you think— will O’Connor become a regular fixture on the Penguins’ 2022-23 roster?