The 2023 version of our Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25 countdown list begins with a lanky, collegiate defensemen.
#25 Daniel Laatsch, LHD
2022 Ranking: n/a
Age: 21 (DOB: February 13, 2002)
Acquired Via: seventh round pick, 2021 draft
Height/Weight: 6’5”, 190 pounds
It was a challenging and disappointing season in hockey for the University of Wisconsin in 2022-23. The Badgers finished last in the Big 10 and fired program legend (and former Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach) Tony Granato as a result.
The highlight of the season for Wisconsin was undoubtedly knocking off the No. 1 team in the country, and their fierce rivals the Minnesota Golden Gophers in February. Penguin prospect Daniel Laatsch made his only goal of the campaign count when he snapped in a shot in the second period of that game.
Daniel Laatsch gets his first of the season!— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerMHockey) February 12, 2023
: Horbach, Bantle pic.twitter.com/6Lwik42dao
Offense is not the name of the game for Laatsch, who will have to excel in other areas in order to keep developing. Taylor Haase caught up with Laatsch at last month’s development camp and the player had this to say about his game:
“I’m a very tall, tall defenseman,” was how Laatsch described himself at the Penguins’ development camp earlier this month. “It’s more breaking out the puck, closing down plays, just defense first.”
“I’d love to add offense to my game,” he said. “But I think knowing my role, it’s defense first. Then using that to transition into offense is something that I’m still working on and try to incorporate in tiny little pieces at a time.”
For comparison to Laatsch, here’s some selected other Penguin defensive defensemen over the years in their sophomore seasons:
- Rob Scuderi (1998-99, BC): 41 games played, 2 goals, 8 assists
- Brooks Orpik (1999-2000, BC): 38 GP, 1G+9A
- Brian Strait (2007-08, Boston University): 37GP, 0G+10A
- Brian Dumoulin (2010-11, Boston College): 37 GP, 3G+30A
Dumoulin looks like Bobby Orr stood up next to some of these stat lines, but even though some of the samples at this point are growing very ancient it does show there is a path to a pro career without huge offensive upside. Laatsch doesn’t have the even moderate puck moving ability of Dumoulin, or the fearsome physical edge of Orpik, but if he turns into a complete and accomplished defensive player like a Scuderi (or even, relatively speaking, the over-achieving Strait) that would be a success story.
The almost complete absence of point production at the NCAA level doesn’t project well to success in a pro career, but Laatsch has some other skills in addition to his impressive frame and reach that made him a draftable prospect for the Pens.
As the Pens’ official website recapped July’s prospect camp, with comments from the team’s director of player development Tom Kostopolous:
Part of the reason the Penguins’ drafted the 6-foot-5, 183-pound defender three years ago was because of his size, toughness, and skill.
“He’s got one of the best defensive sticks for a kid his age in college hockey,” Kostopoulos said.
“He’s so good with his reach and his size; he’s a really good defender that way. He’s getting better and better on the penalty kill.”
The Pens noted that Laatsch finished seventh in the Big-10 with 55 blocked shots.
Going into his junior year in 2023-24, Laatsch needs to make a move and have a big season. NHL teams typically don’t prefer to allow prospects that they see a future in go into their senior seasons of NCAA (since the players can choose to not sign, then leave the organization as a free agent the following summer if they want), meaning that this year could be a make or break for Laatsch to earn an NHL contract based on what he shows in areas like the last development camp, and also how he grows and develops moving ahead in the next season.
Laatsch’s challenge will be now as an older player in his league with now more experience than most of his competition to really stand out on his promise (size, reach, growing strength and competency defensively) to make a name for himself. 2023-24 offers a great opportunity for him to develop and put himself on the map and potentially into the Penguins’ plans if he can play his way into an NHL contract offer next spring.
Being a 6’5” player, Laatsch will stand out and draw attention for his size, and now the time is coming due for him to move the “future” more towards the “now”.