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5 Falling First-Round Talents Give Penguins Chance for 2nd Round Steal

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Prince Albert Raiders, Ryder Ritchie. Pittsburgh Penguins draft.

LAS VEGAS — The NHL Draft at Sphere was a spectacle. From three-story tall logos that moved in 3D animation to several trades and the Philadelphia Flyers trying desperately to trade up before ultimately trading down, the draft floor was abuzz with activity, just not for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But Day 2 could provide the Penguins a few steals

In keeping with president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas’s methodical offseason plan, the Penguins stood pat Friday, with nary a stray rumor or whisper they attempted to move into the first round. Dubas was clear Friday that the Penguins won’t be going after long-term free agents to maintain maximum flexibility in a few years when the core three are gone, and he won’t be taking what he termed “bad trades” or affixing assets to move out veterans.

So the draft is the best chance he’ll get to add young talent.

Fortunately for the Penguins retool-on-the-fly strategy, there remains a handful of players with first-round grades still available on Day 2. The only potential Penguins target who was snagged in the first round was 6-foot-6 defenseman Dean Letourneau, whose rights now belong to the Boston Bruins.

Still on the board as the second round begins at 11:30 a.m. ET are a handful of talents that have drawn rave reviews from scouts, including slick defenseman Cole Hutson.

PHN previewed Hutson on Friday as our top choice. He’s an offensive defenseman who controls the play, can skate, and move the puck. TSN analyst Craig Button described him as having “360-degree awareness and can thread the needle.”

Hutson posted 66 points in 51 games with the US National Development Team in the USHL. The knock is that he’s slight, only 5-foot-10, 165 pounds.

2. Aron Kiviharju

One player we haven’t profiled is Finnish Elite League defenseman Aron Kiviharju. He was the captain of Team Finland at the 2024 U-18 World Juniors but had knee surgery, limiting him to only seven games with HIFK. According to NHL Central Scouting, he ranked seventh among European skaters. In many ways, he’s a prototypical Swedish defenseman with clean skating and soft up-passes.

However, Kiviharju is also small at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds. From NHL Central Scouting to Sportsnet, he usually had a later first-round projection.

3. Teddy Stiga

Also of the US Development Team. He would be a flashy choice if he lasted 12 picks into the second round. Most outlets rank him in the top 25, and several had him in the top 20. He didn’t disappoint this season, with 36 goals in 61 games. Penguins fans might find him interesting because the left-winger has real shades of Jake Guentzel; his biggest attribute is his hockey IQ.

Even his size is similar: 5-foot-10, 179 pounds.

His other biggest asset is a full-throttle motor. The Metro West Daily News did a feature story, and his coach summed it well for the paper:

“He’s developed a solid identity for himself as a hockey player, something that’s relatable, something that’s repeatable,” USA U18 coach Nick Fohr said. “You’ve got to be able to go back out and do it again. Those are the foundations that are going to allow him to get his foot in the door to take the next steps with the next teams.”

4. Ryder Ritchie

Ritchie also has a late first-round grade from numerous scouting services. The 6-foot, 176-pound right-winger has a deceptive shot and good mobility. He might not be the fastest straight-line skater, but scouts tout his agility.

And scouts love his shot.

Another WHL product from the Prince Albert Raiders, in 2022-23, he was the WHL rookie of the year. This season, Ritchie scored 19 goals and 44 points in 47 games. He also scored eight points (4-4-8) in seven games for Team Canada at the U-18 World Juniors. Ritchie grew up in Sweden but has played the bulk of his hockey in Canada.

5. Julius Miettinen

big center with aggression in his game and a willingness to go to the net. He may flip to LW in the pros, but his defensive awareness and puck pursuit are strong. He continued to improve all season with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL, putting up 20 points in his last 10 games and 31 goals overall.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that the Penguins have tapped the WHL pipeline for their first pick in each of the last two drafts. They also selected first-round picks Owen Pickering (2022) and Brayden Yager (2023) from the WHL.

Miettinen is 6-foot-3, 201 pounds. Both Sportsnet draft analysts ranked him inside the top 32, as did McKeens Hockey.