The Pittsburgh Penguins are hoping to add some more prospects to the pool this offseason, as the team currently holds six draft picks in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Despite the plethora of picks, the team has just one second-round pick, with the remaining choices being slotted in the fifth and seventh rounds, so they will have to choose wisely. Here are some potential options I could see the team going after:
Stanislav Svozil would be the perfect player for the Penguins’ pool, and would become arguably the best in the system. Standing at 6-foot-1, 179 pounds, he has taken on great defensive responsibilities wherever he has played, and has been a very valuable defenseman.
Svozil played the majority of this season in the Czech Republic, where he had one goal and three points through 30 games played, and he also represented the country at the World Junior Championship, where he had one point through five games.
Related: THW 2021 NHL Draft Guide
Svozil’s best assets are his hockey IQ along with his tremendous footwork. He is able to skate the puck up the ice and is always looking to make a play. His defensive game is also great, and he has the ability to close gaps and win battles in the corner often. He is a great positional player, which the Penguins haven’t had in very many defensemen over time. While he is prone to making a bad play once in a while, his ability to get back into plays quickly is what keeps teams’ confidence in him up.
The issue is that it is unlikely we will see Svozil drop to the spot the Penguins will be at in the second round, based off of mock drafts. However, if it does happen, the team cannot afford to pass up on him. He would be poised to be a future top-pairing defenseman of the franchise for years to come.
We have another defenseman on this list with Olen Zellweger. The Albertan spent this past season with the Everett Silvertips in the Western Hockey League, where he put up 2 goals and 13 points in 11 games played. He also joined Team Canada at the U18 World Junior Championships, where he had one goal and eight points through seven games. Obviously, based on these statistics, he has proven his ability to produce.
Zellweger is classified as a mobile defender who excels at shutting down the opposition, starting from the neutral zone. His small size also allows him to use skating and speed to his advantage, allowing him to join the rush if needed, and quickly race for pucks.
Justin Froese of FCHockey has praised him, stating that “Zellweger was a breakout candidate due in part to the excellent platform skills he possesses and the dynamic base to his skating and skill-game. He has the ability to multitask, and he reads the ice proactively which has allowed him to show growth as an efficient defender and become a key play creator for the Tips.”
I project that Zellweger can be a really solid bottom-four defenseman in the NHL, who could play the role of a power-play quarterback. He could be a very good addition to the Penguins pool.
This one may be a little off of the board, but I would consider taking a look at Wyatt Johnston if he is still available. Just two years removed from being drafted sixth overall in the OHL Priority Selection, he has a small sample size due to COVID-19 stoppages and the 2020-21 season being canceled, but trust me when I say the potential is high.
Johnston’s last season was in 2019-20, where he had 12 goals and 30 points through 53 games played with the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League. Since then, he has played just seven games with Team Canada at the U18 World Junior Championship, where he had two goals and four points, but he is expected to play again during the 2021-22 season, assuming the league will be able to resume.
Despite being 6-foot-1 and 176 pounds, Johnston plays a power-forward type of game and does not shy away from using his body, while also having a nose for the net. This has been seen as something the Penguins have loved in the past, with players like Patric Hornqvist and Brandon Tanev. Johnston would be a valuable piece for the third line in the future, and would also give the Penguins a good option down the middle in a few years.
If it weren’t for the cancellations and issues faced during this last year, I think we would be talking about Johnston as a potential late first-round pick, so I definitely think he is worth a look at the team’s second-round option.
I’ve mainly tried to only focus on left-handed players when looking at defensemen here due to Pittsburgh already having Kris Letang and John Marino on the right side, and that continues with Evan Nause. He spent this past season with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, where he had 4 goals and 22 points through 32 games played.
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Nause is a boring player, which is exactly what you need from a defenseman. He’s a good skater, but doesn’t overly try and go end-to-end. He’s talented offensively, but he doesn’t risk allowing a goal to make a play. He is a sturdy two-way defenseman who rarely panics, and his hockey IQ is off the charts.
He is probably the “safest” defenseman on this list in terms of chances of making the NHL, as his 6-foot-2 build along with the traits I just mentioned leave me no questions as to if he will become a bust – the only thing is that his potential is quite limited. He likely will never be a first-pairing defenseman, nor a No. 2 option – rather, he’ll be a complementary third or fourth option who can shut the door and play 18-20 minutes a night when you need him to.
Obviously, there is no guarantee that the Penguins even keep their second-round pick, as we have seen with trades in recent years, but I do think general manager Ron Hextall will take a different approach and try to maintain his draft picks.
I do think the Penguins should choose a defenseman with their pick, but if not, they should target a centreman. They do not need to focus on any wingers or goaltenders in this draft, as they already have enough in the system.
PIT Penguins Writer THW. Twitter & Instagram: puckempire. Formerly a Florida Panthers writer.