Penguins: 5 Potential First-Round Options

The Pittsburgh Penguins currently own the 21st overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Barring a major change, the team will be active in the first round of a draft for the first time since 2014. While the Penguins are far from Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko territory, the 2019 draft class looks to be a fairly strong one and general manager Jim Rutherford thinks so, too:

“Our scouts have liked the draft for some time,” he said Tuesday. “Even a year ago, they were projecting that this was going to be good, prior to the [prospects] performing this season. And it’s exactly where they thought it was going to be,”

(from “Penguins GM Jim Rutherford open to dealing for more picks in ‘real deep’ NHL draft” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 6/11/19).

Rutherford believes the draft is deep enough that the Penguins could trade back to acquire some extra capital. As much as he loves making moves and shaking things up, that seems to be a real possibility. For now, assuming the team sticks with their selection, a few names stand out as potential future Penguins.

Cam York – Defenseman

Pittsburgh will likely select whichever skater the team deems the best player available when their pick comes around. The system could use help at nearly every position right now, so the Penguins can’t be too picky. In that case, should he fall into the Penguins’ lap, Cam York could be the top prospect on the board.

Cam York of the U.S. National Development Program
Will the Penguins get lucky and see Cam York slip to their selection? (Hickling Images)

York is viewed by many as one of the top defensive prospects in the draft. He fits the “puck-moving defenseman” role that the Penguins tend to lean toward in their selections. Undersized at just 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, York makes up for it with his high offensive upside. The California native has been touted for his strong shot, ability to lead a power-play unit, and strong skating skills.

While the 18-year-old is unanimously a top-20 prospect, some concerns about his size could see him to drop a few slots to allow Pittsburgh to scoop him up. He’s far from a bruising blueliner, but York’s upside in the offensive end should make up for it tenfold.

Philip Tomasino – Forward

Few players have improved their draft stock this past season as much as Philip Tomasino. During the 2017-18 campaign, the forward prospect recorded just 24 points in 61 games with the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League. He was also held scoreless in 10 postseason contests. Then, something clicked for the 17-year-old. He lit up OHL competition for 34 goals and 72 points this season, drawing eyes from scouts and analysts alike.

Tomasino has a solid frame, standing at roughly 6-feet, 183 pounds. He should fill out nicely as an NHL center, though a move to wing could also be in the works. The Ontario native displays everything a team would like in a middle-six forward: high energy, strong skating ability, and he showed signs of being a decent play-maker. He needs work on the defensive side of the ice, but that won’t hurt his draft value, especially since he doesn’t turn 18 for another month.

Nils Höglander – Forward

At just 18 years old, Nils Höglander already has a season in the Swedish Hockey League under his belt. He scored just seven goals and 14 points in 50 contests, but he was able to hold his own in his home country’s top league. At 5-foot-9, 188 pounds, Höglander embodies the “small but ultra-skilled winger” role much like Johnny Gaudreau, Viktor Arvidsson, or Brad Marchand.

Nils Hoglander, Rogle BK.
The Swedish winger’s elite skillset could fit in perfectly with the Penguins’ system. (photo by Andreas Ljunggren)

Some scouts have fallen in love with Höglander’s puck-handling skills with hands that are quick and smooth and can set up dangerous opportunities for both himself and his teammates. The 18-year-old is just as quick to play the role of set-up man as he is to unleash a strong wrist shot on goal. Combine that skill with his tenacity and grinding ability and Höglander could be a steal as a late first-round selection.

Bobby Brink – Forward

Sticking with the theme of undersized skaters, Bobby Brink is easily the smallest of this bunch. The 17-year-old stands at just 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds but has plenty of offensive upside to make up for it. Brink has committed to the University of Denver, following in the footsteps of other NHL players such as Paul Stastny and Jason Zucker.

The Minnesota native finished second in goals (35) and fourth in points (68) among all skaters in the United States Hockey League this past season. He punishes opposing netminders with a strong release and terrific ice vision to allow him to make plays. For being fairly small, Brink does have a slightly physical edge and knows how to hold his own in the defensive end.

Thomas Harley – Defenseman

Similar to Tomasino, Thomas Harley’s draft stock exploded this season after a breakout campaign in the OHL. He produced 15 points in 62 contests during the 2017-18 season, but caught fire this season, notching 11 goals and 58 points for the Mississauga Steelheads.

Thomas Harley Mississauga Steelheads
If Pittsburgh wants to bulk up with a big defenseman, look no further than Thomas Harley. (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Like most 17-year-old blueliners, Harley has some work to do when it comes to defensive IQ and positioning. He’s got a solid frame to work with, standing at 6-foot-3 and 183 pounds. The New York native has been touted as one of the best skaters in this year’s draft class, helping his draft stock rise this past season. With his offensive potential, he would be a steal for Pittsburgh.

With such a deep draft class, it will be hard for the Penguins to go wrong with the 21st overall selection. The team’s very thin system will allow them to draft any position and immediately get better. Any of these five high-upside prospects should make Pittsburgh management quite happy.