It’s the final stretch of our annual ‘Top 25 Under 25’ countdown of Penguins prospects as the list enters the final three players, beginning with one of the newest faces joining the system, 2022 first round selection Owen Pickering.
Related: 2022 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: Graduates and Departed
#25: Nolan Collins
#24: Colin Swoyer
#23: Jonathan Gruden
#22: Ty Glover
#21: Kirill Tankov
#20: Judd Caulfield
#19 Corey Andonovski
#18: Jordan Frasca
#17: Isaac Belliveau
#16: Taylor Gauthier
#15: Alex Nylander
#14: Nathan Legare
#13: Tristan Broz
#12: Raivis Ansons
#11: Lukas Svejkovsky
#10: Filip Lindberg
#9: Filip Hallander
#8: Valtteri Puustinen
#7: Joel Blomqvist
#6: Sam Poulin
#5: Drew O’Connor
#4: Ryan Poehling
#3: Owen Pickering, Defenseman
2021 Ranking: NR
Age: 18 (Jan 27, 2004)
Height/Weight: 6’4”/181 lbs.
Acquired Via: 2022 NHL Draft; First Round
There was a bevy of talent waiting for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they went on the clock with the 21st pick at the 2022 NHL Draft and it appears they used that pick wisely. With Kris Letang making the pick, the Penguins selected the hopeful future of their blue line in Owen Pickering.
Pickering stands at a colossal 6’ 4” off of skates with an added few inches when he’s one the ice. He’s on the skinny side at the moment (181 pounds) but at only 18 and with a few more seasons of junior hockey left, he has plenty of time to add some extra bulk to his frame.
Coming off a successful first season in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Swift Current Broncos, Pickering was one of the top rated prospects in the 2022 NHL Draft and widely expected to be taken in the first round.
With the Broncos in 2021-22, Pickering played in 62 games, recording nine goals and 24 assists for a total of 33 points in his first full junior season. In the year prior, Pickering played in 23 games with the Broncos, totaling nine total points.
While Pickering is extremely raw at the moment, something to be expected from an 18-year old, there are signs in his game that he can develop into a special player and hopefully the future of the Penguins defense for the next generation.
When watching Pickering on tape, most scouts agreed there was no doubt he has the tools to become an NHL caliber defenseman.
Per Corey Pronman of The Athletic:
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 and 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 of his play with the puck and overall consistency. He projects as a second- or third-pair defenseman depending on how much the offense translates.
The key sticking point in the analysis above is on his offense and how it develops in the coming years. Given his frame, his defensive capabilities aren’t too much in question, but his role at a professional level will be determined more by how his offensive game translates to the next level than anything else.
While his offense, or lack thereof, during his first season with the Broncos perhaps drug down his evaluation a bit, there will still be plenty of time for his game to develop and become more well rounded as he gets closer to joining the professional ranks.
From Jesse Marshall at The Athletic:
Dumoulin’s big frame, the long reach, the fluid skating that belies the size of the player — it was all there with Pickering, the Penguins’ first-round pick in the NHL Draft. Layered on top of those traits were a few new ones, too: confident puck-moving on the breakout, sneaking into the backdoor offensively and an increasing desire to have the puck on his stick in the neutral zone.
Where Dumoulin focuses on being a shutdown defenseman, Pickering has grown on offense and become significantly more active with the puck on his stick in the past year.
Pickering can still improve offensively as he gets more experience as a puck carrier and makes some mistakes as he finds his way. Take a look at the next clip, where Pickering is quarterbacking the power play and handling breakout duties. He carries the puck beautifully in this sequence but takes it right into a one-on-four situation and loses. He avoids disaster, but this is just a case of growing pains in a newer role and knowing when to push and when to bail.
Pickering’s evolution on the power play should be exciting to watch. He has a strong, powerful shot, but it’s also accurate. I get the sense he routinely sacrifices velocity for accuracy and takes a bit off his shots. He can effectively reverse pivot and coast backward with his stick loaded for a one-timer. As with many other aspects of his game, this is still developing.
For what it’s worth, Jesse gave the pick an ‘A’ grade and if you’ve been following the Penguins long enough to will know Jesse is one of the best when it comes to evaluating prospects.
While it’s nice to look forward and focus on what Pickering could provide the Penguins in the future, it’s also necessary to look at the present and see where the young defenseman goes from here.
Pickering attended the Penguins development camp shortly after being drafted and put together a good showing based on comments from those in attendance. Pickering also attended Team Canada’s World Junior training camp but was cut from the team. He was considered underage this time around and will have another chance to compete for a Team Canada roster spot when the 2023 tournament rolls around this winter.
Less than 10 days after being drafted by the Penguins, Pickering and the team agreed to a three-year entry level deal that will kick in once he turns pro, likely at least two years from now.
Although it will be years before Pickering ever laces up his skates for the Penguins, he will remain a major factor in how the Penguins build moving forward and into the post-Crosby era of hockey in Pittsburgh. Ron Hextall made it a point to hold onto his first round pick this year, and getting a player like Pickering is exactly why.
He will return to the Swift Current Broncos this season where his development will continue. While it will be nice to see him get regular game action, Swift Current is not one of the better teams in the WHL so fingers crossed playing on a bad team doesn’t hinder his continued development.
It’s no secret the Penguins farm system is weak (Pronman ranks them 30th in the NHL) and starving for young players to reload as much as possible. Hextall made a big step in that direction with the selection of Pickering and it certainly says a lot about a player that his debut on this list as a recently drafted 18-year comes in at the No. 3 spot.