The hockey world converges on Buffalo, N.Y. tomorrow as the best of the future take their first step toward stardom with the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Of course, many of the players selected this weekend will dazzle fans in the AHL, as well.
At the top of the draft rankings are sure-fire studs like Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Jesse Puljujärvi, but unless the Pittsburgh Penguins swing a wild trade in the hours leading up to the draft, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton fans shouldn’t expect to see them in a black and gold uniform anytime soon. Pittsburgh will be picking much further down in the draft order, with their first selections coming six spots apart at 55th at 61st overall.
Just because the big name prospects will be gone in the top three doesn’t mean grade-A talent won’t be available to Pittsburgh. Recent Pittsburgh (and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) stars like Oskar Sundqvist, Bryan Rust, Tom Kühnhackl and Matt Murray weren’t even taken in the first 80 picks of their respective drafts. Jake Guentzel was selected 77th overall in 2013, and there’s no way Penguins faithful can forget how well he played in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
The point is: There’s talent abound in those areas. Here are some names that Pittsburgh might be considering calling as the newest members of the organization…
CLIFF PU – Forward – London Knights
He may have played a secondary role on an absolutely stacked Memorial Cup-winning squad, but there’s no way you can miss Pu’s speed. He’s very quick and agile, and has good straight-ahead skating ability. His head can keep up with his feet, too, as he’s shown to be an intelligent player with and without the puck. He’s unafraid to crash the crease for greasy goals, and he came up clutch several times for London on their near-unstoppable postseason run. He’s a good fit for the organization based on the style of play Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan have cultivated in the Steel City.
JORDAN KYROU – Forward – Sarnia Sting
Kyrou packs a lot of energy into an impressive physical package. He’s a natural athlete and insatiable competitor, a combination that’s easy to love. He shows scoring ability around the net, good hands in tight spaces, never panics under pressure and is dilligent in his own end. There have been concerns about the consistency of his offensive output and how much he can chip in at the next level, but the fact remains that he’s as passionate as they come.
JOHNATHAN DAHLÉN – Forward – Timrå IK
The son of a former NHLer with 966 games in the show to his name, Ulf Dahlén, plays a much different style than that of his old man. Ulf was a wrecking ball power forward, while Johnathan has much more skill and flash in his bag of tricks. Unafraid to attempt eye-popping moves, he terrorized defenses in the Allsvenskan. Dahlén demonstrates an excellent shot, as well. So what’s holding him back from being in the first round conversation? Some scouts aren’t enamored with his strength and balance on his skates. His defensive game requires some fine-tuning, as well.
VICTOR METE – Defenseman – London Knights
Smooth-skating but undersized rearguard turned heads during the playoffs for his stout two-way play. He was just as much an offensive catalyst as he was defensively stout. Played as a fearless shot-blocker en route to a Memorial Cup title (something Pittsburgh is very familiar with from its championship run). Mete needs to learn how to properly time his speedy play so as not to skate out of a passing lane and/or end up too far ahead of a play. He was projected to go in Pittsburgh’s territory for a while, but he may be off the board sooner after his contributions to London’s championship.
ADAM FOX – Defenseman – USNTDP
Mastermind playmaker. He has the confidence to try daredevil feeds and often ends up pulling them off, but that doesn’t mean he’ll ignore the simple play, either. He’s a trustworthy power play quarterback, too. Fox reads the play well when his team doesn’t have the puck, too, leading to solid defensive positioning. For all his gifts, he gets tossed around a bit in rough ‘n’ tumble match ups and his effectiveness fades. Some have him pegged as a first rounder, other consider him a mid-third round prospect.
MATT MURRAY – Goalie – Spruce Grove Saints
No, don’t adjust your screen. You’re reading that right. Someone could draft Matt Murray. Again. This goalie is significantly shorter than the Matt Murray who won Goaltender of the Year and Rookie of the Year with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton a year ago, but still clearly gifted. He was named the AJHL’s Goaltender of the Year this season, and that was based on a résumé he compiled BEFORE he put up a .947 save percentage in the playoffs. He never coughs up a bad rebound or gets caught in a panic, pulling him out of position. NHL teams have been trending towards tall crease-keepers for years now, so this would admittedly be a sleeper pick much more likely to go in the late rounds.
PITTSBURGH’S DRAFT PICKS
1. Second round, 55th overall
2. Second round, 61st overall
3. Fourth round, 121st overall
4. Fifth round, 151st overall
5. Sixth round, 181st overall
Make sure to check back after the draft has wrapped up to meet Pittsburgh’s new picks and future Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins!