As the NHL draft day grows near, rankings from places like Daily Faceoff, Sportsnet and The Athletic are starting to trickle out as the prospect gurus rank and list their top eligible players for the annual draft. An area that stood out in this year, as is becoming a trend in hockey, is the talent being produced by the United States National Development Team.
The NDTP has about seven prospects with good odds of going in the first round. Some, like West Mifflin’s Logan Cooley, will be gone long before the Penguins take their turn to pick at number 21 (assuming the suddenly trade-active at the draft Ron Hextall stays at No. 21, that it).
But with a bevy of names showing up in the 15-30ish range in a world where NHL draft boards can vary widely among different teams, there could be pretty good odds that the Pens’ pick has ties to the massive development program that the US runs these days.
Cooley, Cutter Gauthier and Frank Nazar all project to be top-half of the round picks so they weren’t considered for this. Here are some of the names of their teammates from last season, in no particular order that are worth learning a bit about:
Jimmy Snuggerud, RW
Selected Draft Rankings: 18 (Sportsnet), 26 (Daily Faceoff), 26, 27 (The Athletic; Wheeler, Pronman)
Snuggerud often played on a line with Cooley and Gauthier this season, two expected top-5-10ish type picks in this draft. Some reports will knock Snuggerud’s skating, some praise it. All of them are impressed by Snuggerud’s shot, with also a decent level of offensive ability and work ethic, to go along with a pretty solid frame at a young age (6’1, 186). The Pens’ system is so depleted that winger might be a luxury pick, but Snuggerud could present an option for a second line upside.
Isaac Howard, LW
Selected Draft Rankings: 12 (Sportsnet), 16 (Daily Faceoff), 10, 31 (The Athletic; Wheeler, Pronman)
Howard is a perfect prospect for the NHL draft in the sense that so there are many different opinions about where he stacks up, as you can see above. There is a very real likelihood, perhaps even a high probability that Howard will be selected in the first 20 picks and be off the board by the time the Pens are slotted to pick. However, it’s far from a guarantee.
Scott Wheeler, who fancies Howard a bit wrote in part, “one of the more dangerous players in the draft with the puck and yet he’s even more dangerous off of it, with a scorer’s sixth sense for always arriving just on time in Grade-A location”. Pronman, who didn’t like Howard as much raised question about skating burst for his 5’10 frame and scoring more by going to the net than truly having an elite shot.
Howard could be a “higher risk, higher reward” type of player, almost all agree his stick skills and offensive ability is among the highest in the draft class, despite lacking size and perhaps not being as quick of a skater as one would prefer.
Rutger McGroarty, RW
Selected Draft Rankings: 25 (Sportsnet), 18 (Daily Faceoff), 15, 21 (The Athletic; Wheeler, Pronman)
Daily Faceoff wrote McGroarty has “the size, he’s got the work ethic, the character and goal-scoring ability to be a long-term impact player. The main drawback in his game is his footspeed”. McGroarty was the captain of the USNTDP this year. All reports really like everything about him, except that skating. Sportsnet noted “he gets places but has to be pushing at full throttle to be effective”. At 6’1, 204, he stands out that much of his profiles remind of Penguins 2019 first round pick Sam Poulin, with perhaps more leadership and effectiveness going to the net.
It’s also Pensburgh’s impression that McGroarty interviewed well and “looked good in shorts” at the scouting combine, and probably will be selected somewhere in the teens of the draft before Pittsburgh picks (if they don’t trade up for him). So if they’re really keen on him, they might consider a trade on draft day to move up a few spots to ensure they can select him.
Lane Hutson, LHD
Selected Draft Rankings: Not ranked in top 32 (Sportsnet), 21 (Daily Faceoff), 19, 22 (The Athletic; Wheeler, Pronman)
At a Jake Guentzel-esque 5’9, 150 at the time of draft, Hutson would be a projection pick based on his offensive ability. Pronman raved about his passing, stick-handling and called him the “the smartest player in the draft”. While not a straight-line burner by any account, Daily Faceoff said “his ability to change directions on a dime is one of his best attributes and makes him difficult to track for the opposition”. Wheeler noted that, “the reality is there aren’t many defensemen Hutson’s size who play in the NHL, even as the game changes” though Pronman listed a player like Torey Krug (probably generously listed at 5’9, 190) as a comparable .
The Pens don’t have a second round pick, could they afford coming out of the 2022 draft thinking this outside the box? Seems unlikely, but if they’re looking to add pure skill now and hope it develops then there might not be a better choice at No. 21 than Hutson.
Ryan Chesley, RHD
Selected Draft Rankings: 31 (Sportsnet), 22 (Daily Faceoff), 30, 29 (The Athletic; Wheeler, Pronman)
About the opposite of Hutson as a prospect, Chesley at 6’1, 201 already has an NHL frame and a different style. “Defends well and moves pucks efficiently. May not be a major point getter, but another player aware of what his strengths are,” is how Sportsnet wrote him up. Daily Faceoff added, “tremendous defensive sense highlighted by his gap control and ability to defend the rush. He retrieves pucks especially well and can aid his team’s transition with his feet or with a good first pass”. Questions abound about how much offense Chesley will bring as a pro, but all reports agree that he is a smart and strong defender who can skate relatively well and thinks the game at a solid level.
With the Penguins possessing no legitimate right shot defenders in their prospect pool, a player like Chesley should be worth heavy consideration at #21.
Seamus Casey, RHD
Selected Draft Rankings: Not ranked in top 32 (Sportsnet), 37 (Daily Faceoff), 27, 48 (The Athletic; Wheeler, Pronman)
A fringe candidate for the first round, Casey is a smallish offensive-minded defenseman who has “NHL-caliber skating and skill” according to Pronman, though doesn’t have elite puck skills and questions about how effective defensively he could be as a pro . Daily Faceoff said, “One of the best skating defensemen in this draft, Casey has so many tools that make you believe he can be a special player down the road” if he can put his game together.
Casey would be a bit of a reach based on pre-draft rankings, however he should start to be in the conversation for a team like Pittsburgh and their needs.
This crop in the Penguins’ range from US National team this draft class has a lot of winger and defensive talent to be on their board and worthy of consideration. If Pittsburgh is inclined to look for a center to start their draft, assuming Nazar doesn’t make an unexpected fall, the Pens probably won’t be going to this program in the first round. But the abilities of players especially like McGroarty, Snuggerud and Chesley would all fit the bill for talent and need if they are still available when it comes time for the Pens to make their pick.