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Penguins 2021 NHL Draft: Independent Scouts Circle Players to Watch

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Sean Tschigerl

Over the last 44 years, becoming a Pittsburgh Penguins second-round pick has been akin to being tossed onto the front lines of medieval war. Expectations were high. Careers were short. Escape was the only option. The Penguins do not have a selection in Friday’s first-round and have just five selections on Saturday, but only two picks in the first five rounds.

No, not even the draftniks are guaranteed to have heard of the Penguins’ picks, especially with three seventh-rounders. With such a lack of opportunity, PHN has not spent time on the draft because in these parts discussing the NHL Draft is like discussing food without french fries.

So, we’ve enlisted the help of independent scouting’s stalwart, McKeen’s Hockey, and new scouting service Smaht Scouting, based in Boston.

We highly recommend purchasing McKeen’s annual draft guide. You may snag your digital copy here.

You may also subscribe to McKeen’s for full prospect coverage throughout the year.

Smaht scouting is a free service. Check them out here. 

Penguins GM Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor like the USHL. Whereas Jim Rutherford and the previous Penguins regime liked to pull from the QMJHL and Finland, Hextall and Pryor made the primary American junior league one of their primary hunting grounds. Hextall also didn’t shy from European prospects, such as Oskar Lindblom, a fifth-rounder from Sweden in 2014.

Ryan Wagman of McKeen’s, whose primary coverage base is the USHL, effortlessly tossed a few 2021 Penguins draft prospects our way. Curiously, he and Paul Zuk of Smaht Scouting overlapped just one prospect, but that draft prospect fits perfectly.

Unlike the NFL Draft, where few teams reach or go too far off-book, the NHL draft, especially after COVID wrecked many junior and college seasons will be a crapshoot.

The Penguins’ prospect cupboard is bare. They can go in any direction, but we’re inclined to predict an all-around defenseman with some offense and enough strength to compete in battle areas or a forward with some scoring and grit.

We’ll have more to watch, but here are three we really like:

3 Prospects to Watch for Pittsburgh Penguins Second Round Choice

1. Aidan Hreschuk, Defenseman, 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, USNDT U17.

This is the player both independent scouts circled as a Penguins get. However, early in the season, he was graded by NHL Central Scouting as a C-level prospect, which typically means a middle-round selection.

His stock rose throughout the year. Smaht scouting projected him as a top-35 player. Wagman of McKeens tagged him as a big sleeper in Round Two.

“…Another one of those guys with good hockey IQ. And I think that’s what you want to focus on in the second because (by pick 58) you’re starting to lose a bit of high-end skill sets, but you’ve still got those hockey IQ guys. I’m a big fan of Hreschuk’s game,” Wagman said. “He looks like a middle paring defenseman. He’s got a reasonable size these days, just a shade under six feet tall. But he skates well, moves the puck well…”

Hreschuk’s long strides and fluid skating motion jumped out at Smaht Scouting. Both services like his ability, though he’s only 17 and playing on the USNTD-U17 team.

This season, the defenseman scored 24 points (4-20-24) in 49 games with 40 penalty minutes. While the physical side of his game hasn’t matured, he doesn’t shrink from a chippy game, either.

2. Jack Bar, Defense, 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Chicago Steel, USHL.

The Harvard-bound d-man split many scouts. The Canadian draft wonks like Bob McKenzie and Craig Button put Bar into the third round. Our indie scouts, who saw him in person, really liked him.

“(Bar) is from the Toronto area. He was going to play in British Columbia, but they didn’t know what was going on (with COVID). So he came into play for the Steel. He started a little slowly, got really hot for about a month and a half, and then a back injury slowed him down again,” said Wagman, who scouted him in person. “But I think in that month and a half, he showed me a lot. He likes to get involved in the offense, has good size, good strength because he’s got a good combination of tools. You know, if he’s available–that would be a smart pick.”

NHL Central Scouting rated Bar as a second-round pick. Circle him as a player who could eventually fit into the Penguins’ second or third pairing, with a bit of development and luck.

His stats are solid. He scored 15 points, including five goals in 34 games, but the back injury limited his production. Did the Pittsburgh Penguins scouts get a good look when he was on his game?

The size and offensive desire are there.

3. Sean Tschigerl, Left Wing, 6-foot, 186 pounds, Calgary Hitmen, WHL

The Penguins have dipped into the WHL pool in the recent past, too, with Calen Addison and Jordy Bellerive of the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Our Smaht Scout, Zuk, really pumped Tschigerl’s tires.

“He’s a left-winger for the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL–Gritty forward,” Zuk said. “I don’t think his production matches what he brings. I think he was kind of unlucky in terms of like point totals.”

Still, Tschigerl took a major step forward this season. His points-per-game production jumped from .4 to 1.0. In 21 games this year, he scored 13 goals with eight assists. He also scored a pair of shorties.

The winger was drafted fourth overall in the 2018 WHL Draft.

A gritty, western Canadian forechecker who can put the puck in the net? That pretty much screams new Penguins, doesn’t it? The video highlight from Josh Tessler below is pretty good work by Tschigerl:

 

Of the half dozen or more players presented to PHN by the scouting services, we have a gut feeling about Tschigerl. Whether or not the Pittsburgh Penguins agree or pick him is to be determined, but he plays with aggression and assertiveness that’s hard to ignore. His game would translate very quickly to the evolving pro game.

PHN will deliver more prospects throughout the day and early Saturday morning, including one controversial pick with first-round talent but plenty of baggage. The remainder of the prospect reports and selections will be PHN+ content. You can join here for just $19.99 for a full year. 

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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