The draft lottery has been resolved and even though the main event is still seven weeks away to start picking players, the mock drafts are starting to fly in. Here are some notable early mocks that are out there:
Kimelman — Nate Danielson: This is the earliest the Penguins have selected in the draft since 2012 when they selected defenseman Derrick Pouliot at No. 8. Danielson stood out on a Brandon team that struggled this season, and scouts were impressed with how he continued to develop the offensive side of his game to complement his responsible defensive abilities. With so many top-end forwards available in this draft class, it’s imperative to find centers that can eventually replace Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and Danielson has the potential to develop into a strong top-six player.
Morreale — Gabriel Perreault: Perreault led the NTDP in goals, assists and points this season before finishing second among all players at the U-18 Worlds with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in seven games. The 18-year-old left-handed shot, the son of former NHL center Yanic Perreault, has great instincts, good smarts, and knows how to put himself in good areas to receive a pass or create offense.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins: Eduard Sale, RW (Brno, Czechia)
Inconsistency plagued Eduard Sale this year, but the highs were definitely high. He was one of the few players that stood out for the Czechs internationally, including at the U-18s last month. He used a benching midway through the world juniors as motivation and played his best hockey in the medal round, which was promising. After spending the past year playing against men, it’ll be interesting to see where, and how he plays next year. I just wish he’d find a way to consistently get more engaged in the play.
14. Pittsburgh: Nate Danielson, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): Won’t be the sexiest pick in the first half of the draft, but may be the most effective at playing in all three zones. Where a more dynamic player might be a better fit for the Penguins, the safety of this pick will set the tone for whoever the new GM is.
Draft Day Strategy: Pittsburgh needs to add to the depth of their organization. They might have to get creative, but if Danielson is staring at them with this pick they have to call his name. There are several prospects who bring different qualities in this range. Danielson is a young captain from the Brandon Wheat Kings who scored 33 goals and 45 assists in the regular season. He played in all situations and provides a sneaky physical edge. He would be a great add for Pittsburgh.
Nate Danielson, C, Brandon (WHL)
Danielson is arguably the best player available. Versatile and big, the Red Deer, Alberta, native also packs enough offensive punch to warrant a top-15 selection. Danielson, who narrowly missed the age cutoff for the 2022 draft, averaged more than a point per game in the WHL this past season. Some evaluators believe he can become a reliable second-line center.
The Athletic beat writer draft, Rob Rossi: 14. Pittsburgh Penguins: Nate Danielson, C, Brandon (WHL)
Scott Wheeler’s mock at The Athletic:
14. Pittsburgh Penguins: Matthew Wood, RW, UConn
My ranking: No. 10
The Penguins badly need to hit on a good forward prospect they land in a place in the draft where there will be a number of them. In the scenario I’ve plotted here, a natural centre in Yager or wingers Wood, Honzek, Eduard Sale, and Colby Barlow could be realistic targets. I think there are other scenarios where one or two of Oliver Moore or Nate Danielson are still here and one or two of those other five names I just listed aren’t, too. Of those remaining, though, I’d wager Sale is the least likely selection for a management and scouting group that is in a period of transition after the firings of Ron Hextall and Brian Burke. I’ve gone with Wood, who would likely be the highest-ranked player in a consensus league-wide ranking of those five names at the moment, and who could conceivably factor in as a scoring winger before the Crosby-Malkin chapter closes.
Craig Button, TSN: 14. Pittsburgh Penguins – Brayden Yager
Yahoo!: 14. Pittsburgh Penguins - Gabe Perreault, W, USNTDP
Few have scored as much this season as Perreault. There’s little doubt he can play a power-play role and eventually be a top-six forward in the NHL, but he also needs to round out the finer points to his game and learn to be equally astute on the other side of the puck. Still, with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby aging, taking an offensively gifted player like Perreault is a no-brainer for the Penguins.
While, naturally enough down at No. 14, there is some diversity among the Pittsburgh possible picks, considering that the NHL draft is the most unpredictable of all the major sports. But it’s clear that one name is being repeated over and over as a natural link and fit for the Pens- Nate Danielson, the WHL center.
In almost every mock where Danielson was still on the board, the prognosticators selected him to Pittsburgh. Will that pay off in real life in the actual draft? It’s far too early to tell, especially without knowing just how aggressive the yet-to-be-hired general manager might feel (or not feel) about moving the pick for immediate help.
The good news for the Pens in this draft is that there are a lot of quality forwards around, but their trick now is going to be to determine between players like Danielson, Matthew Wood, Eduard Sale and Gabriel Perreault as to which player might be a future 30 goal scorer in the mix, and which one(s) might not amount to much at the NHL level. The trouble is at this point of the development determining exactly which prospect will end up in which bucket.
For now, however, if you want to lookup highlights or writeups on 2023 NHL draft eligible players that could end up in Pittsburgh, Nate Danielson is a great place to start.