Pittsburgh didn’t make its first selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft until the late second round, but they certainly made the most of it.
As the draft started to shake out, it became clear that there would be plenty of talent available for the Penguins organization to choose from. And as we all know, that talent usually blossoms in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Below are the newest additions to the Penguins organization:
55th overall: FILIP GUSTAVSSON
Gustavsson is a calm and mentally strong goalie who has shined in big situations on the international stage. He relies on perfect positioning and mechanics rather than flashy stops, and thus makes difficult saves appear like run-of-the-mill practice shots. The Skellefteå, Sweden native shows good footwork as well as lower body strength for excellent lateral movement to always be square to the shooter. A European cliché, he prefers to play deep in his crease. Statistically, he took a step back at the junior level, but in six SHL performances (and one playoff stint) with Luleå, he had a save percentage well-over .910.
61st overall: KASPER BJÖRKQVIST
After going undrafted in 2015, Björkqvist insisted on remaining in the Finnish junior system so that he could maintain his college eligibility. He dominated the Jr. A SM-liiga as a result and clearly caught the attention of Pittsburgh’s scouts. He’s a responsible, two-way presence from the wing who may not be the quickest, but his smarts never allow his to fall behind the play. He’s committed to Providence College, where he will be able to adjust to the North American game and refine more of his skills before he makes the jump to the pro level.
77th overall: CONNOR HALL*
You’re going to like this guy, Penguins fans. He’s one tough customer, but he can maneuver the ice well, too. You do not want to end up on his bad side. The Kitchener Rangers defenseman knows how to keep his composure, too. Despite his reputation as a guy with a mean streak, he had just 49 penalty minutes in 39 games. At the junior level, you often see those totals a lot higher for someone of his ilk. He won’t be counted on for primary offense from the blue line, but remains a trustworthy player in transition and will help you get back possession of the puck and then move it out of your zone. Though Hall hails from Kitchener, Ont., he informed reporters that he actually attended several games at the old Igloo in Pittsburgh to see Sidney Crosby in action.
* = Pittsburgh acquired the 77th overall pick at the draft from New Jersey in exchange for the rights to Beau Bennett
121st overall: RYAN JONES
In his final year of draft eligibility, Jones thrived in a larger role with the Lincoln Stars. His point production improved from 13 points to 30 points. So it’s safe to consider him your prototypical “late bloomer”. He’s a smooth-as-butter skater who you can always count on him for a crisp, tape-to-tape feed. Racks up a lot of his points on the power play, too. Boasts a booming shot and some snarl to his game. Gustavsson might have the piercing eyes capable of staring deep into your soul (as seen above,) but nobody in the Penguins’ draft corps is going to top Jones when it comes to hockey hair.
151st overall: NICLAS ALMARI
Another defenseman on the board for Pittsburgh, and a second player out of the Jr. A SM-liiga. In fact, he’s from the same hometown and played in the same youth system as Björkqvist. Almari bounced around from team to team this season, but was revitalized when playing under the umbrella of legendary franchise Jokerit. Almari is an impressive skater who will add more power to his stride as he naturally matures. He uses good that skating ability to almost always have himself in the right position. He’s never going to wow you with eye-popping plays when the puck is on his stick. Instead, he prefers simpler, high-percentage plays.
181st overall: JOE MASONIUS
A product of the U.S. National Team Development Program, Masonius went undrafted last year. This defenseman has no single outstanding trait, he’s just well-rounded and keeps his game simple. Masonius excels by making swift, simple decisions. Undrafted last year, a long college career of growth and development is likely ahead for the freshman out of the University of Connecticut. He is one of ten siblings, a family with an even split of five boys and five girls. His mother, Ellen, played collegiate basketball at Saint Joseph’s University.
That wraps up the Pittsburgh Penguins work at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo, N.Y. The strategy from the scouts is a very simple one to see: Take defense. After the Penguins traded into the 77th slot, they selected four defensemen in a row. Pittsburgh also continued to show its fearlessness when it comes to picked players that were passed over in previous drafts. Three of the Penguins picks, Björkqvist, Jones and Masonius, were not chosen in their first years of eligibility. There’s a precedent for those kind of picks paying off, though, with Dominik Simon‘s success during his first season in North America as a great example.
Get to know these names, because there’s a good chance they’ll be groomed in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton someday.