One of my favorite times of the year in professional sports is the draft. Plenty of new names entering the league, some with high potential to be franchise leaders while some become fascinating role players in the league. Two-hundred and seventeen names will be called this weekend as a new crop of NHL prospects enter the fold.
Jim Rutherford and his team have been hard at work narrowing down a draft board. There are hundreds of names to sift through and plenty to fit the Penguins system and future. Before I even began looking at names for this, I looked at the Penguins recent draft history. In the last 5 years, we have definitely had a preference selecting 9 players out of U.S.A. programs and 8 players from Sweden and Finland. After that, we have seen 5 CHL players, 2 from Canadian Junior A and 1 from the Czech league. I based my selections roughly on this trend.
2nd Round, 53rd overall — RD Sean Durzi, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Ht: 6’0″ Wt: 196 lbs — Ranked 37th North American skater by NHL Central Scouting
Sean Durzi, in his second year of draft eligibility, seemingly boosted his draft stock quite high this season, posting 49 points in 40 regular season games with the Attack. He was left undrafted last summer and failed to get a contract after attending Islanders rookie camp. It motivated him – Durzi worked on aspects of his game to become a better puck moving defenseman, even enlisting former teammate Petrus Palmu.
Durzi suffered an injury late in the OHL season, but returned to action to post 16 points (including 4 goals) in 11 playoff games to cap off his year. Durzi fits a need as the Penguins lost puck mover RD Lukas Bengtsson this offseason and he can be immediately signed to the AHL to further his development. He has size, he can move the puck incredibly well and likes to attack in the middle and he’s a smart, skilled defender.
Pro Comparison: Tyson Barrie
Potential: 2nd pairing RD, puck mover, power play specialist
OTHER POSSIBLE CHOICES
Sampo Ranta, LW — big bodied power forward with serious wheels and a lethal shot
Cole Fonstad, LW/C — smaller forward with skill and high IQ playmaking abilities
Jake Wise, C — skilled playmaking forward, potential steal after injury affected his draft stock
3rd Round, 64th overall — C/LW Matej Pekar, Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
Ht: 6’0″ Wt: 165 lbs — Ranked 55th North American skater by NHL Central Scouting
A true jack of all trades, Matej Pekar hits a lot of boxes the Penguins have interest in. He’s a deceptive skater, he’s got offensive skill and produces well and he plays a responsible game. Pekar had a great season, posting 54 points in 56 games playing for the Lumberjacks (6th for U19 USHL players). He also had a terrific showing on the international stage with 5 points in 7 games for the Czech Republic in the U18 WJC.
Pekar has committed to play for Miami University (OH). He’s a quality guy to have in the system. The Penguins have shown a lot of interest in developing similar players, like Bryan Rust – guys who can produce offensively and creatively while also playing stout defensively. Pekar would need to add some weight and develop physically, but would fit the Penguins needs in the system.
Pro Comparison: Jakob Silfverberg
Potential: Middle 6 two-way forward, best in a depth role but able to step up in a pinch
OTHER POSSIBLE CHOICES
Albin Eriksson, LW/RW — big bodied forward with a knack for going to the net and putting the puck in
Ty Emberson, RD — big frame, defensively minded with a bit of untapped offense
Oskar Back, C — solid two-way player, low ceiling but likely high floor
5th Round, 129th overall — LW Alex Steeves, Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
Ht: 5’10” Wt: 165 lbs — Ranked 86th North American skater by NHL Central Scouting
Double dipping on USHL players, Alex Steeves is another good potential pro winger. I’ll preface this by saying there is a chance he is no longer available at this point, but I would make this pick easily. Steeves main attribute is just his pure hockey skill. He’s a fast agile skater and he has the vision that a pro would need to make quality plays. There are concerns with his attitude and, at times, selfish play – but I believe those are traits he can grow out of.
Steeves put up 57 points in 55 games with the Fighting Saints in a league that isn’t quite easy to put up points as a young, smaller player. He’s committed to playing for Notre Dame and will continue to adapt his game. Like Pekar, he needs to beef up his frame to be a solid NHLer. But given he has skill that should make him go earlier, this would be a solid addition to the Pens prospect pool.
Pro Comparison: Cam Atkinson
Potential: Bottom 6 offensive winger, energy guy
5th Round, 146th overall — LD Santeri Salmela, KooKoo (Liiga)
Ht: 6’1″ Wt: 192 lbs — Ranked 57th European skater by NHL Central Scouting
The Penguins have shown they are interested in the stay-at-home defensive type lately after picking Connor Hall (2016) and Zachary Lauzon (2017). Santeri Salmela is skilled for a defensive-minded guy, though not the most offensively gifted. He only managed 1 point in 31 Liiga games. He matched that total playing 17 Jr. A contests in Finland as well. Not the ideal offensive output you’d be looking for.
What I like about Salmela is he makes up for that lack of production in skill. He has no issues skating. He’s agile and quick for a bigger framed defenseman. He is also a smart player and solid in his positioning, even adding some physical play to his arsenal. He’s a similar style player to Niclas Almari, a 2016 Penguins draft pick in Finland.
Pro Comparison: David Savard
Potential: 6th/7th D, capable of slotting in when needed, PKer
6th Round, 177th overall — G Jesper Myrenberg, Linkoping HC J20 (SuperElit)
Ht: 6’2″ Wt: 179 lbs — Unranked by NHL Central Scouting
The Penguins shipped Filip Gustavsson out, so it could make sense to add another goalie. They have a starter, a quality AHL prospect (who could be moved at some point) and a decent goalie in the CHL, but it doesn’t hurt just to keep a large pool. Jesper Myrenberg doesn’t jump out as a future starter, but he has put up some quality numbers in the SuperElit league. In 27 games, he has a .922 sv% and 1.82.
Myrenberg will likely continue his development in the Swedish circuit for a few years, but there isn’t a rush for the Pens to get another young guy to North America. If he can develop into a solid backup for Murray 4-5 years down the road, he will be a quality selection.
Pro Comparison: N/A
Potential: Backup to AHL starting goalie, similar to Casey DeSmith
7th Round, 208th overall — C Patrick Khordorenko, Michigan State (NCAA)
Ht: 6’0″ Wt: 207 lbs — Ranked 127th North American skater by NHL Central Scouting
The final pick for the Penguins is another 2nd year eligible player. Khordorenko saw a big uptick in production his sophomore year at MSU, posting 32 points in 36 games. He’s a strong forward with a pro ready frame, but lacks in the skating department. The Penguins have a good development group, which could help.
Another issue with Khordorenko could be his downward arc. He was one of the top skaters for his age group and selected early in the WHL draft. Since then, he hasn’t really made more of an impact. Still, given it’s a 7th round choice and physically he’s solid, I’d take a run at him.
Pro Comparison: Matt Martin
Potential: 13th F, AHL depth, physical player with some OK skill
Feel free to pick my brain on Twitter, @moorese7en, for any other questions or potential picks we could make.