Pittsburgh Penguins Draft Brayden Yager 14th Overall

With the 14th overall pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, the Pittsburgh Penguins have selected Brayden Yager from the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League (WHL)

About Brayden Yager

While there’s no doubt that Brayden Yager was one of the top players available in the 2023 NHL Draft, it’s rare for there to be so much uncertainty surrounding a player of his caliber. Now, no one is saying that he shouldn’t have been selected in Round 1, but he’s been as highly rated as seventh overall by some outlets, and as low as 30th by others. However, ratings aren’t important when it comes to draft day. Clearly, the Penguins valued Yager highly, which made him an easy selection.

Related: 2023 NHL Draft: Live Tracker

On the ice, Yager is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none. He has a strong shot but is far from the best of the class. He has solid offensive instincts that allow him to set up scoring chances but isn’t a dominant playmaker that will drive an offense on his own. He’s not the strongest skater, but he has a non-stop motor that allows him to make space on the ice to create scoring chances.

So, all this means is that Yager still needs time to develop. The toolkit is there for a dominant skater at all ends of the ice, but if he is able to hone his skills in one or two areas, he could blossom into a top-six centerman who can chip in 30 goals each season while playing a strong defensive game as well.

THW Prospect Profile Excerpt

“The thing that jumps out at you about Yager’s game is his shot and his willingness to use it. He’s got a quick release and hits his target with deadly accuracy. He has 60 goals over his last two seasons in the Western Hockey League (WHL) and could probably have a lot more if he was asked to adopt a shoot-first mentality. His shot does not rival the best goal-scorers in the world, but it is dangerous enough that he could develop into a 30 goal-scorer in the NHL at his peak.

Brayden Yager Team Canada
Brayden Yager of Team Canada. (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

“As a top-six center with the Moose Jaw Warriors, he regularly gets his teammates involved in the offense. While he is not the most creative prospect available in this year’s draft (and some could even argue that his passing game is a little bit bland), he knows how to identify the simple plays that maintain possession and lead to scoring opportunities. In other words, he’s more of a finisher than a facilitator, but he is more than capable of being the ‘tic’ or ‘tac’ in a tic-tac-toe play.

“Overall, perhaps Yager’s best trait is how active he is all over the ice. Though he is not the best skater (his skating is average at best compared to the rest of his draft class) he does move his feet in all areas of the ice. That includes the defensive zone where he doesn’t just participate in defensive coverage, he actively pursues the puck-carrier and backchecks like a true two-way centerman. He will need to add a lot of strength over the next few years to really tap into his defensive abilities, but if he can, he’ll become an all-situations centerman at the NHL level.

Related: 2023 NHL Draft Guide

“Yager’s compete level is not a concern as he is always trying to contribute however he can. This will be key for him moving forward, especially if his offensive abilities do not fully translate at the NHL level. To be a top-six center in the NHL, a player has to be trusted to play a good chunk of minutes while also producing in that time on ice. This particular prospect should have no problem earning the trust of every coach he plays for, but it remains to be seen if he can score against the best goalies in the world. With playmaking not being a trademark of his game, his compete level will be what earns him a spot in the NHL, regardless of whether it’s in a top six or bottom six spot…”

Full player profile can be found here.

How This Affects the Penguins’ Plans

In the short term, Pittsburgh selected Yager likely understanding that he won’t be a plug-and-play forward. He will need time to develop his game before he will be able to take on the NHL, but that is to be expected for a player at this point in the draft.

Over the next few seasons, Yager will need to take on more ice time in the WHL and eventually the American Hockey League (AHL) in order to round out his game. If things go well, by the 2024-25 season he could be ready to play in a bottom-six role for the Penguins, but more than likely he will need until 2025-26 before making his NHL debut.

Either way, as long as the Penguins take their time with Yager, they should have a nightly NHL starter with this pick. While his ceiling is likely a second-line centerman, there’s nothing wrong with him developing into a bottom-six forward who can chip in on the scoresheet and play a strong defensive game either.