The next era starts now as new team architect Kyle Dubas picks his first Penguins draft class.
Beyond consensus number one pick Connor Bedard, the 2023 NHL Draft is a bonanza of talented young players to an extent we have not seen in many years. It's the perfect opening managerial event for newly installed Penguins boss Kyle Dubas as he faces the task of engineering the next generation of the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise.
That challenge begins with pick number fourteen. This is the highest position the Penguins have had in the draft in over a decade. They must seize this rare chance at a blue chip player.
It’s almost a given that the Penguins will select a forward with their fourteenth overall pick. This draft is an offensive goldmine and the Pens desperately need high-end reinforcements in their prospect pool there.
Here we take a look at the prime candidates to become the newest Penguin during Round One this Wednesday night. They're listed by their ranking in TSN analyst Bob McKenzie's mock draft, which is often the most accurate predictor of the actual draft order. We've included the players we think will fall near enough to the Pens' position to potentially be their selection.
-#8- David Reinbacher, D- EHC Kloten (NL, Switzerland)-
From: Hohenems, Austria. Born: 10/25/2004. Height/Weight: 6'2"/187 lbs. Shoots: Right.
Austrian David Reinbacher is the premier and only defenseman listed in the top ten draft projections. He’s expected to be chosen well before the Penguins’ spot but given the number of forward talents available, it could spark a frenzy as teams try to snatch up their preferred player at that position ahead of him. As a result, he may unexpectedly fall into Pittsburgh's lap at fourteenth place. It’s a break the Pens could use as their right defense plans in this age range are non-existent. Reinbacher already plays in a men’s league in Switzerland so he could be closer to NHL-ready than other prospects too. That's always an appealing draw but especially for a team in the Penguins' situation of a very dry immediate pipeline. Reinbacher is primarily a defensive defenseman at his core. However, he produced offensive stats in the Swiss league in his draft year that outpaced Roman Josi’s numbers at the same age. It’s a tantalizing comparison that many teams might have difficulty passing up.
-#9- Zach Benson, F- Wenatchee Wild (WHL)-
From: Langley, BC, Canada. Born: 5/12/2005. Height/Weight: 5'10”/159 lbs. Shoots: Left.
There are many questions about Zach Benson but they all center around his size, not his ability. While he has adequate height, his 159 lb. frame gives some scouts pause. It's clear that Benson is undersized but any teams hesitating on that factor could mean the Penguins' windfall by allowing him to slip out of the top ten. And there’s no disputing his offensive abilities are sublime. His high-end skill and intelligence are some of the best of any player this year. Benson’s compete level is also off the charts. He plays a full-effort, scrappy style. That kind of work ethic combined with his other attributes makes his game reminiscent of Jake Guentzel’s. Still worries about his stature could cause him to tumble towards the teens and if he does the Pens’ should bet on the 18-year-old still having some room to grow physically in the coming years. Future off-season gains in the gym should bolster his chances of finding the durability necessary for the pro game.
-#10- Gabe Perreault, RW- U.S. National Team Development Program (USHL)-
From: Sherbrooke, QC, Canada. Born: 5/7/2005. Height/Weight: 5’11”/165 lbs. Shoots: Left.
The headline on Gabe Perreault: he’s the second-highest goal scorer of this entire draft year behind only consensus number one pick Connor Bedard. Perrault put up some monster numbers this season with the U.S. National Team’s Development Program. He logged 53 goals and 79 assists for a total of 132 points in 63 games. Those tallies helped Perreault smash the US National Team single-season point record previously held by Jack Hughes and Auston Matthews before him. Such historically outstanding numbers might see him vault toward the upper part of the top ten but if he remains available at fourteenth he’s an easy pick for the Penguins. Perreault is perhaps the second most gifted offensive talent of the bunch this year and the Pens need an infusion of young forward stars.
-#11- Matthew Wood, LW/C- University of Connecticut (NCAA)-
From: Lethbridge, AB, Canada. Born: 2/6/2005. Height/Weight: 6'3"/190 lbs. Shoots: Right.
Wood is a two-position forward who made a big splash this year at UCONN. He led the Huskies in points in his first NCAA season. Wood also lit up on the international stage for Canada at the Under-18 World Junior Championships with seven goals and six assists in seven games played as he helped Team Canada capture bronze. He’s a pure scorer and a decent-sized one at that which could see him being picked much higher in the draft than where the Pens’ are positioned. Scouts agree that he has one of the most impressive shots of any prospect. The only question is whether his skating will hold back his natural offensive aptitude as he plays at higher competition levels. On a Penguins-related note, Wood grew up idolizing Evgeni Malkin and wears jersey #71 in his honor, so there’s little doubt about whether he’d welcome being selected by the Pens.
-#12- Colby Barlow, LW- Owen Sound Attack (OHL)-
From: Orillia, ON, Canada. Born: 2/14/2005. Height/Weight: 6’1”/187 lbs. Shoots: Left.
As he told TSN, Colby Barlow aims to mimic Auston Matthews’ shot and Sidney Crosby’s leadership. He’s succeeded at both. Barlow registered 46 goals and 33 assists in 59 games this year, and was named captain of the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack. He’s noted for his goal-scoring talent, play awareness, and for the extra grit he brings to his game. At 6’1”, 187lbs. and already looking like he’s in his late twenties, he also comes ready to play at an NHL level from a physical standpoint. His scouting reports peg him more as a complimentary scoring winger. And this is the exact type of player the Penguins need as play generators Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin move into the twilight of their careers. Having a physical build that could lead to rapid promotion to the NHL could make the Pens jump at the chance to take Barlow with the goal of moving him along to the league as quickly as possible.
-#13- Oliver Moore, C- U.S. National Team Development Program (USHL)-
From: Mounds View, MN. Born: 1/22/2005. Height/Weight: 5’11”/176 lbs. Shoots: Left.
Oliver Moore is said to be the strongest skater in this draft class. His raw speed and ability to play the high-octane offense that Mike Sullivan used to secure back-to-back Stanley Cups would be an appealing asset to a team with an aging core like the Penguins. Moore still has a ways to go in rounding out his game though and is expected to stay at the college level for the next few years at the minimum. This means his ETA is a bit longer than some other players, but the draw of his overwhelming pace might make up for that necessary maturation time. He’s a high-upside pick who could project to play in the top six at his peak.
-#14- Axel Sandin Pellikka, D- Skelleftea AIK (SHL, Sweden)-
From: Gallivare, Sweden. Born: 3/11/2005. Height/Weight: 5'11"/181 lbs. Shoots: Right.
Swede Axel Sandin Pellikka ranks exactly at the Penguins’ spot in Bob McKenzie’s mock draft. He also has the golden seal of approval from Pens’ scouting guru Jesse Marshall (paywall) as the most suitable selection for this spot. Sandin Pellikka’s a right-handed, offensive-defensemen. He can QB the powerplay which is a universally in-demand player type that makes him difficult to ignore even though the Penguins’ primary needs lie at forward. “ASP” is a tremendous puck-handler who excels at pinching, which is the exact system the Pittsburgh Penguins use. If this sounds like he could be a contingency plan to eventually help to replace 36-year-old Kris Letang beyond just P.O. Joseph, you're right. This might make him the most appropriate fit for the fourteenth pick.
-#15- Brayden Yager, C- Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)-
From: Saskatoon, SK, Canada. Born: 1/3/2005. Height/Weight: 6'0"/165 lbs. Shoots: Right.
It is evident that the Penguins have some interest in centerman Brayden Yager already, as they went (hold the) wining and dining with the youngster during the NHL combine. It’s easy to see why as the words "strong skater", "speed", and "puck carrier" often come up in his scouting reports. He’s an energetic player which is another aspect that will be a priority as the team attempts to supplement its veteran players in the future. There are some worries that Yager can become streaky however so this is a player that needs to be analyzed for risk vs. reward. He's another case where the team would be betting more on his upside than his current skill set.
-#16- Nate Danielson, C- Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)-
From: Red Deer, AB, Canada. Born: 9/27/2004. Height/Weight: 6'1"/187 lbs. Shoots: Right.
Nate Danielson is another player the Pens have already shown interest in pre-draft after meeting at the combine. Danielson's on the older end of this class and is the captain of the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings. This means he's more of a mature player already. He brings size and physicality, as well as a great checking game. Reports note he's well-rounded and seems to do all the little things you want a center to do well: faceoffs, backchecking, defending, play-driving. He sounds like the perfect middle-six center of the future. It’s an apt comparison to say he’s in the mold of a Jordan Staal. Danielson is sturdy and reliable but not the flashiest forward. Still, he’s the type of guy that is absolutely essential to the success of a team. His biggest draw is the potential to provide long-term stability down the center in the middle of the depth chart.
Honorable Mentions/Longer Shots:
-#17- Samuel Honzek, C- Vancouver Giants (WHL)
-#19- Dmitri Simashev, D- Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)
-#21- Calum Ritchie, C- Oshawa Generals (OHL)
-#22- Daniil But, LW- Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)
-#25- Quentin Musty, LW- Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
-#27- Andrew Cristall, LW- Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
-#28- Oliver Bonk, D- London Knights (OHL)
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Owen Robinson is the founder, site editor, and lead writer for Pens Report. A resident of the North Hills he’s covered the Penguins as a reporter and photographer for various outlets since 2011, including through two Stanley Cup seasons. In his spare time, he enjoys classic film, concerts, photography, Mac Miller, and hanging out with a good cat. You can follow him on Twitter @itsowenrobinson.