Connect with us


How Long Before NHL Job is Within Pickering’s Reach?



Owen Pickering, Pittsburgh Penguins

CRANBERRYBrayden Yager, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first-round pick in the NHL Draft last week, knows all about the prospect his new team claimed in the opening round a year ago.

Probably has been familiar with him for at least as long as the Penguins’ amateur scouts have been.

That’s what happens when you play against a guy the way Yager and defenseman Owen Pickering have for the past few years in the Western Hockey League.

“He’s one of the best two-way (defensemen) in the WHL,” Yager said. “He’s obviously got a big, long stick and he can skate, too. Definitely someone who’s not easy to play against.”

Yager plays for Moose Jaw, while Pickering has spent the past three seasons with Swift Current.

He had an eight-game cameo with the Penguins’ American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre at the end of last season, and was quick to notice the differences between juniors and the professional game.

“You’re playing against men,” Pickering said. “It’s faster. It’s harder. Guys are playing for jobs. I enjoyed the taste. Kind of motivated me for the summer.”

Competing in the AHL appears to have whetted his appetite for more than just upgraded competition: Tom Kostopoulos, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ director of player development, said Pickering has added some weight during the offseason.

“He’s put on 10 pounds now since the season ended and he’s still moving as well as he was before,” Kostopoulos said. “That’s pretty special. It’s good weight that he’s putting on.”

And it’s a good thing that he is because, according to the roster for the Penguins’ just-concluded development camp, Pickering checked in at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds. That means he still has some serious filling out to do.

“I want to put on weight,” Pickering said. “I want to get stronger, more explosive. Kind of the same goals as I had last summer.”

Pickering will return for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ training camp this fall, but with so many defensemen with NHL experience ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s unlikely that he’ll be cashing a major-league paycheck anytime soon.

But while Pickering understands that — and realizes that he’s far from a finished product — he will report to camp intent on giving management no choice but to include him in the Opening Night lineup.

“The mentality of a player should always be that when you come into camp, you’re trying to make the team,” he said. “Obviously, I could put on the scouts’ glasses and the GM’s glasses and kind of take a step back, but I try not to do that.”

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach J.D. Forrest appreciates how difficult the transition from juniors to the AHL can be, but said Pickering “has got a lot of tools” and praised the way he adapted to pro hockey.

“Every day, we saw progression,” he said. “He’s playing against men all of a sudden, and he’s doing a great job of getting physically ready for advancing in his career.”

Defensemen routinely take longer to develop than players at other positions, and Kostopoulos said Pickering still has “stuff to polish up,” but his career trajectory seems promising. And so is his commitment to continuing to improve.

“Definitely, I’m taking steps,” Pickering said. “It’s just about developing every day, trying to get that one percent better.

“I’ve gotten stronger. I’ve put on more weight. It’s all about trying to learn the game. You’re never exactly where you want to be. You come to the rink and learn every day to learn, so that’s what I try to do.”