A spring spent without the NHL playoffs has one advantage. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ consecutive playoff streak ended at 16 years, but the team will have their highest first-round draft pick in over a decade when they select 14th at the 2023 NHL Draft in Nashville next month.
Though it didn’t work out so well the last time the Penguins picked this high, as they selected Derrick Pouliot with the eighth overall pick in 2012.
There was a silver lining in 2012. In addition to acquiring the eighth overall pick when they traded Jordan Staal to Carolina, they also acquired a young minor league defenseman Brian Dumoulin.
With their own pick of the 2012 draft, the Penguins took Olli Matta with the 22nd overall pick. Such fortune and misfortune underscore the unpredictable nature of the NHL Draft. Maatta was a lineup regular on a pair of Stanley Cup championships, while Pouliot continues to bounce around the NHL and AHL.
There are already a handful of NHL Mock Drafts to peruse, and it seems the early consensus is the Pittsburgh Penguins will have a choice between a steady two-way center or a high-scoring American winger.
Mike Morreale: Gabriel Perrault.
Adam Kimmelman: Nate Danielson.
Perrault is the son of former NHL player Yanic Perrault. His draft board rankings range from a high of 14 (Craig Button, TSN) to 41st (Smaht Scouting). With the USNDT, he destroyed the USHL competition this season with 132 points, including 53 goals in 63 games, and committed to Boston College.
Perrault also torched the U-18 championships with 18 points (5-13-18) in seven games. His skating is a bit lacking.
Collectively, Danielson is drawing praise for playing on both ends of the ice. Highlights show his skating is good, too.
His draft rankings are generally in the mid-teens, so the external draftniks like him in that range. He’s 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, and had 78 points (33-45-78) in 68 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) this season.
Danielson is nearly a year older than some prospects and just missed the cutoff for the 2022 NHL Draft. It seems a slight reach to project him as a high-scoring top-six center but not reach to project him as a middle-six NHL center.
Jason Bukala: Nate Danielson
Bukala correctly notes the Penguins do not have center depth in the organization. That’s probably an understatement. Bukalo noted a sneaky physical edge to Danielson as well as steady play.
“It won’t be the sexiest pick in the first half of the draft,” wrote Bukala.
Steve Ellis: Eduard Sale
Sale is a RW from Czechia. As Ellis noted, Sale was benched in the World Juniors for inconsistent play but turned it on in the medal rounds.
Sale is slight, at 6-foot-1, 168 pounds. Most draft services see him as a top-10 pick, but Ellis writes that his inconsistency could cost him. Playing in the Czech league, he scored 14 points (7-7-14) in 43 games and zero points in six playoff games.
Overall, he posted six points (1-5-6) at the World Juniors. The consensus on Sale is that he had good hands and is a playmaking winger.
Bill Płaczek: Brayden Yager
Placzek predicted the Penguins’ selection of Owen Pickering in 2022 and Sam Poulin in 2019. His first version calls out Yager, and he makes a good case. Yager’s draft board rankings generally fall between 10 and 20, so there’s a good chance he’ll be there.
Yager and Danielson had similar point totals, as Yager put up 78 points (28-50-78) with Moose Jaw. Placzek notes that Yager is a shoot-first center with a good shoot and a taste for highlight reel goals.
Scott Wheeler: Matthew Wood
An interesting pick here. A big winger with a scoring touch, Wood played at UConn, but his numbers as a freshman drew attention. Most draft boards peg him closer to 20 or 25 than 14, but some big names, like Bob McKenzie of TSN, have him at 14.
He’s 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, and netted 34 points (11-23-34) in 35 games. He shined well with Team Canada at the U-18s and scored 13 points (7-6-13) in seven games.
Wood is a 2005 birth year, so he’s younger than most draft-eligible prospects, and he was the youngest player in the NCAA. His path has been a little steeper; he came through the BCHL (Junior A). His skating is sketchy, but his ability to finish is solid.