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Expert Opinions on Possible Penguins Picks; Big Talent Could Fall to Pens

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Cole Hutson. Possible Pittsburgh Penguins Draft Picks
Cole Hutson: Photo Courtesy of USNTDP

LAS VEGAS — The Pittsburgh Penguins will most likely be spectators during the first round of the 2024 NHL Draft Friday at the Sphere in Las Vegas.. They have a pair of second-round picks clumped at Nos. 44 and 46, the first of which is the former pick of the Philadelphia Flyers acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in the Jake Guentzel trade, while the second is their own. Getting their first picks at that spot in the draft means neither selection is sure to be fast-tracked to the NHL, but there could be some big-time talent available.

Predicting who will be available in the second round is akin to guessing lottery numbers. Still, a few names have bubbled up in external scouting reports, including John Mustard and the very tantalizing defenseman Cole Hutson.

Many have or had a first-round grade on Huston, but the 2024 draft is as much of a crapshoot as any in recent memory, and Hutson has a late second-round grade from several others. He’s just one of several prospects who could be drafted Friday or deeper into Saturday, which works to the Penguins’ benefit.

The draft list we like the most is from TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who polls organizations and scouts to rank the prospects. We’re also using TSN’s Craig Button’s list, which is his personal analysis, NHL Central Scouting, and for balance, indie service Smaht Scouting, which has recently shown a high proficiency in prospect rankings.

Top Choice: Cole Hutson, LHD, USNTDP

Cole Hutson is the younger brother of Lane Hutson, who was selected in the second round of the 2022 NHL Draft and then proceeded to shred the competition at Boston University before making his NHL debut in April.

Like his older brother, Cole is a slick, left-handed defenseman who knows how to attack in the offensive zone. In 51 games with the USNTDP of the USHL, Hutson had 51 assists and scored 15 goals.

The knock on the Hutson brothers is size. Hutson is 5-foot-10, 165 pounds. However, as the older Hutson is proving, the boys know how to play hockey and aren’t done filling out.

If Hutson is available, he is PHN’s unequivocal pick. He would be the immediate heir to Kris Letang and Erik Karlsson and perhaps be ready to join them before one or both are gone. The Penguins bypassed Lane in 2022 and can’t afford to make the same mistake twice.

“Cole Hutson is a setup artist. He sets up opponents to do exactly what he wants to do. He doesn’t commit to one thing, (instead) he keeps his options wide open,” Craig Button said on TSN.

“He has 360-degree awareness and the ability to thread the needle … if you’re on the ice with Cole Hutson, you’d best be ready to receive the pass.”

Rankings:

NHL Central Scouting: 55th Among North American skaters
McKenzie (TSN): 47th
Craig Button: 23rd
Smaht Scouting: 40th

Julius Miettinen, F, Everett (WHL)

The last two Penguins’ first-round picks (Owen Pickering and Braydon Yager) have come from the WHL. Could the Penguins go for the hat trick?

There’s a lot to like about the big center. First is Miettinen’s size. At 18, he’s already 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, and he put up big numbers for Everett Silvertips of the WHL. This season, he scored 31 goals with 67 points in 66 games.

Miettinen, 18, is something of a polarizing prospect because his rankings vary wildly. He steadily improved all season, but where is the floor, and where is the ceiling? Button absolutely loves him and slapped a first-round grade on him, ranking him 19th. However, other rankings put him in the mid to late second round.

Smaht: “The foundation of his game is his strong (defensive zone) play, and Miettinen has some snarl to his game. Furthermore, he had an incredibly strong finish to the regular season, with 20 points in his final 10 games.

PHN Analysis: As a big guy, his skating can seem average, but when he digs in, he gets from point A to point B well, so there are no worries there. He backchecks hard and gets to pucks along the wall with a quick stride. His conscientious work drives possession, and his willingness to use his size near the net with some silky mitts should be quite attractive. Watch his between-the-legs goal below.

John Mustard

Draftnik Russ Cohen profiled Mustard for PHN. Mustard’s skating and energy set him apart and have allowed him to put up big numbers with Waterloo of the OHL. He’s only 17 and had only weeks to spare for being eligible for the 2024 Draft.

In his first OHL season, he scored 29 goals with 56 points in 60 games. He’s also a raw talent that experts see as a project with worlds of potential.

He’s become something of a hot commodity for those projecting the Penguins’ draft. However, McKenzie ranks him 58th, and Button dropped him to 59th. The 6-foot, 185-pound left-handed shot projects as a third-line scorer, either in the middle or wing.

“He has exceptional speed and a quick release on his shot,” Cohen wrote for PHN. “Probably a third-line weapon could be a second-liner if things break right.”

Follow Russ on X, @sportsology, and check out his website, NHLDraftbuzz.com.

Rankings:

NHL Central Scouting: 27th Among NA Skaters
McKenzie: 58
Button: 59
Smaht: 36

Maxim Massé, RW, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)

Again, we’re looking for some size and grit. Maxim Massé has it.

At 6-foot-2, 192 pounds, the winger knows how to score goals. His rankings have fallen as others have risen; originally touted as a first-round pick, some thought his development slowed this season. Smaht dropped him to 76th, while Button and McKenzie have him in the 40 range.

Here’s what to like: Massé has speed and hands to go with his size. We’re sold on those combinations alone. If that’s not enough, he won the Michael Bossy Trophy as the top professional prospect from the QMJHL. He also has 13 game-winning goals in his first two QMJHL seasons–that’s clutch.

This season, he potted 36 goals and 75 points in the regular season and six points (3-3-6) in eight playoff games. He has the makings of a power forward, even if some scouts believe he plateaued just a bit in his second junior season.

He’s not a one-dimensional player and isn’t afraid to play in the defensive zone, either. If the big names don’t fall, it seems Massé is a legit NHL talent. We like his shot and where he’s willing to go on the ice. The Q put his highlights on Facebook here.

Rankings:

NHL Central Scouting: 30th NA Skaters
McKenzie: 30
Button: 44
Smaht: 76