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Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: #3 - Owen Pickering

A former first rounder checks in high on the list of top young players in the Pens’ organization

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2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

As we reach towards the top of the countdown of the top young players in the Penguins’ organization, last year’s first round pick checks in at No. 3 in the Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25 for the second season in a row.

2023 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: Graduates and Departed
#25: Daniel Laatsch
#24: Cooper Foster
#23: Thimo Nickl
#22: Dillon Hamaliuk
#21 Mikhail Ilyin
#20: Jack St. Ivany
#19: Chase Yoder
#18: Emil Jarventie
#17: Nolan Collins
#16: Raivis Ansons
#15: Ty Glover
#14: Taylor Gauthier
#13: Isaac Belliveau
#12: Lukas Svejkovsky
#11: Tristan Broz
#10: Sergei Murashov
#9: Emil Pieniniemi
#8: Sam Poulin
#7: Jonathan Gruden
#6: Joel Blomqvist
#5: Valtteri Puustinen
#4: Ty Smith

#3: Owen Pickering, LHD

2022 Ranking: No. 3

Age: 19 (Jan 27, 2004)

Height/Weight: 6’4”/185 lbs.

Acquired Via: 2022 NHL Draft; First Round (21st overall)

Elite Prospects Resume

It’s been a meteoric rise for Owen Pickering lately, with 2022 being a year to remember. Pittsburgh made him a first round pick. Swift Current made him their captain. He got to compete for a spot on Canada’s vaunted U-20 World Junior team (though he was cut), while now getting up to 6’4” and “around” 185 pounds. 2023 saw him make his debut in the AHL for a handful of regular season games after his junior year was over.

That’s a world of growth — quite literally — from being a 5’7”, 131 pound, 177th overall WHL pick back in 2019 that wasn’t anywhere close to any of the achievements that Pickering has raked in lately.

Pickering’s emerging leadership was a topic on display from being shown naturally at the Penguins’ July prospect camp. As a first round pick who has been through an NHL prospect camp before, Pickering’s latest growth has seen him develop into an alpha and leader of the Pittsburgh prospects.

“I’m not a big speech giver in the room. Sometimes I do, but I wouldn’t say I’m one to talk to the guys for long periods of time after every period,” Pickering said. “But, I feel like I try to lead by example by coming to the rink every day with the same attitude, a lot of positivity. I try to push the guys that way.”

That was evident during Pickering’s time in Pittsburgh earlier this month for Penguins development camp, with director of player development Tom Kostopoulos impressed by what he saw from the young blueliner.

“Just the way he carries himself on and off the ice - he’s full of confidence,” Kostopoulos said. “He moves up and down the ice a ton. His reach and his length out there and the playmaking ability that he had out there finding guys was impressive

Pickering was paired as a roommate with 2023-first round pick and fellow WHL player Brayden Yager for their short time in Pittsburgh this summer. The two were familiar with each other and no doubt joined up with the organization’s hopes that the two will become close and connected, hopefully to become future NHL teammates one day in the not-too-distant future.

It will take some time and further growth yet to come to get to that ending. Pickering’s time in the AHL could be considered, at best, uneven. He didn’t always look comfortable at the pace of the higher level after spending all year in the juniors. Wilkes-Barre was a bad team, stumbling to a terrible finish, but Pickering was a magnet for goals against (regardless of how much or how little value you would like to place in the +/- stat, Pickering’s total of -9 in just eight games tells the tale of which net the puck was going in, and how frequently, while he was on the ice).

Still, there was some hope too. No one would or should have expected a 19-year old who is a poster boy for needing more time and experience to grow at the junior level to be able to be in a position to jump into a league as quality as the AHL while most other teams are gearing up for the playoffs.

Pickering did show some class and flashes of why he was a first round pick. His ability to recognize plays, anticipate and use his lanky frame to jump into plays is intriguing and worth the hope it will generate. His skating for a big fella is commendable.

When you’re a confident, bright, energetic person on the upswing, it can be a magnetic force. Pickering seems to have those qualities and presents the type of open and out-going personality that makes him a leader. Someone bound to go places.

And while the future is still far off, there’s reason for optimism that what is to come is just as exciting as what has recently happened. Pickering’s slated to go back to Swift Current, be their captain again. The Athletic has not only penciled Pickering into Canada’s U-20 WJC team but projected him to feature in a huge role for the perennial powerhouse. In less than the time it took for Pickering to go from a “5-foot-nothin, 100-pound nothin’” afterthought to a key player, he’ll be turning pro for good sometime around spring 2024 and looking to keep on rising to the top.

It remains to be seen if Pickering can live up to his most accurate draft comp in Travis Sanheim and become a huge, critical player at the NHL level, but he will have every chance and opportunity to get there. The chances of reaching a huge ceiling aren’t tremendous, but given his size, skating and instincts, the floor looks very high for Pickering too. After seeing him with the Pens organization for a little over a year now, it’s hard not to think that this eventually will be an NHL contributor for the team in some way, at some time.

Based off Pickering’s remarkable growth and trajectory he’s been on, it might not be that long off yet.