Player: Drew O’Connor
Born: June 9, 1998 (Age 24 season)
Height: 6’ 3”
Weight: 200 pounds
Hometown: Wayne, New Jersey
Draft: Undrafted; Signed as college free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins out of Dartmouth in March 2020.
2022-23 Statistics: 46 games played, 5 goals, 6 assists = 11 points
Contract Status: O’Connor is set to become a restricted free agent this offseason and will need a qualifying offer if the Penguins wish to keep his rights.. He is arbitration eligible.
Fun fact: O’Connor represented Team USA at the 2023 IIHF World Championships, appearing in all 10 games where he recorded eight points.
Hidden Stat: In addition to his time at the NHL level this season, O’Connor played 20 games in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, racking up 22 points.
History: This is our first season review for O’Connor but he did come in at No. 5 on our annual ‘Top 25 under 25’ list last year.
Salary cap crunch kept O’Connor in the AHL until November but even then he only played in six games between his season debut and the end of the year. Once 2023 arrived, O’Connor became a much more consistent presence in the Penguins lineup, playing in 40 of the team’s final 46 games.
Story of the Season
Having to wait until November to make his season debut after salary cap issues kept him in the minors, O’Connor struggled to crack the lineup initially before coming a more locking down a more permanent role after the new year.
As expected, O’Connor played primarily in a fourth line role, averaging right around 10 minutes of ice time per game. Numbers wise, everything posted by O’Connor this season set a new career high from games played to points. In a bottom six that struggled all season, O’Connor was a bright spot who provided stability and effectiveness when called upon.
Before being called up for good in December, O’Connor was one of the top players for the Baby Penguins in the AHL where he was able to stay fresh while awaiting his turn with the big club.
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
Data via Natural Stat Trick. Ranking is out of 16 forwards on the team who qualified by playing a minimum of 150 minutes.
Corsi For%: 52.4% (8th)
Goals For%: 45.5% (11th)
xGF%: 53.6% (10th)
Scoring Chance %: 50.7% (10th)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 51.3% (11th)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 6.58% (12th)
On-ice save%: .914% (9th)
Goals/60: 0.71 (7th)
Assist/60: 0.85 (8th)
Points/60: 1.57 (8th)
Underlying numbers put O’Connor at the top end of the Penguins bottom six guys when it comes to the box score stats but he himself is not much of a driver of play on the ice. That’s not exactly ideal for a forward but he’s still young and doesn’t yet have a full combined season of games under his belt.
It took until March for O’Connor to find a consistent pair of linemates in Jeff Carter and Josh Archibald. Before that he played with a mixture of teammates including extended time with Mikael Granlund, Ryan Poehling, and Danton Heinen.
What you see is what you get with Drew O’Connor and for a fourth line guy who was signed as a college free agent you can’t ask for much more. Compared to some of his other teammates in the bottom-six O’Connor is almost a superstar. He’s used almost exclusively in 5-on-5 situations and that makes his offensive underlying numbers stick out in a good way.
At 6’3”, O’Connor is one of the bigger bodies on the Penguins roster and he’s learning to how to use that his advantage in front of the net. He hasn’t shown the skill set to be a sniper at the top level but if he can continue to throw his weight around and trust his size the dirty goals will continue to come.
Deflection perfection from Drew O'Connor pic.twitter.com/opDKg18rP9— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 26, 2023
You really do love to see it.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 14, 2023
Drew O'Connor gets his second tally of the season. Kasperi Kapanen's assist on this goal gives him 100 NHL assists! pic.twitter.com/C0I6UNAFko
It took some time and patience, but Drew O’Connor finally got his NHL shot this season and made the most of it. This was the first time he played more than 50% of the regular season and it likely could have been more had salary cap issues not forced him to the minors to begin the season. His numbers from the AHL during his time down there clearly show a guy who was ready for the NHL and he proved his worth when he was recalled for good in December.
Injuries up and down the lineup provided O’Connor with ample opportunity to make an impact on the ice and he showed he was one of the Penguins best options to fill out the lineup night in and night out compared to what else was available.
O’Connor bids farewell to his AHL days and is an NHL regular from the jump next season. Assuming Kyle Dubas has a better grip on how the salary cap works than the previous regime it stands to reason O’Connor is on the opening night roster provided he is resigned this summer which all indications are he should and will be.
Unless he is given an extended look in the top-six next season it seems what he showed this season will be the type of player he is in the NHL: a solid bottom-six forward who posts solid underlying numbers and has a touch of scoring to go along with it. Over the course of a full season he projects to be around a 25 point player, perhaps a touch better with improved finishing.
All in all, O’Connor posting another season in 2023-24 like he just did expect over the course of a full 82 game schedule should work just fine for the Penguins who need all the bottom-six help they can get.
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