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Penguins Former Top Pick Pickering Admits Struggle; Gains 20 Pounds

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Owen Pickering, Pittsburgh penguins prospects

CRANBERRY, Twp. — Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Owen Pickering committed three turnovers, which immediately wound up in his net during the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ 5-0 loss to the Charlotte Checkers on April 6, 2023. It was Pickering’s third AHL game and part of the prospect’s growing pains that was especially painful.

The game was easily the low point of Pickering’s career. Pittsburgh Hockey Now was there that night when he got a bitter taste of professional hockey after being the Penguins’ 2022 first-round pick, 21st overall. Oh, it was obviously a struggle.

Back then, Pickering probably weighed less than 180 pounds. Perhaps much less because he admittedly struggles to maintain weight during the season. For a 6-foot-3 defenseman, lanky would have been a kind term, but he and the Penguins staff have been working on that specific issue, and so, too, has age.

Pickering, 20, now looks physically mature. Even his face has filled in when just recently he looked like a boy from junior hockey. Pickering now cops to being about 200 pounds, gained mostly from muscle after his first foray into the professional levels. That’s about 25 pounds heavier than when he was drafted, and 14 pounds heavier than he was just a year ago.

“I think obviously I’m trying to get stronger, more explosive, but I’ve put on some weight. Now it’s about maturing my game to the pro level,” said Pickering. “It’s it’s a step. I learned that a couple of years ago. I was a lot skinnier when I played in the (AHL) a couple of years ago and a lot less mature. So, I feel like I’m more ready for pro hockey now, and I think they’re kind of echoing that.”

Pickering eats six or seven meals per day and, on the advice of the Penguins’ nutritionists, takes a shot of olive oil, too. Muscle and strength will be crucial to his development, presumably in the American Hockey League, at least to start the season.

The Penguins’ NHL club is full up with defensemen, especially on Pickering’s natural left side, who have NHL experience. However, Pickering’s pedigree and talent should allow him to leapfrog into the big league when ready.

“I think this year I focused a lot on my defensive game and making sure I was ready to translate that way,” Pickering said. “In Swift Current, with our philosophy, we had a lot of guys playing a ton of offense up front. So it was just kind of trying to focus on certain areas of my game, but I was drafted to have offensive ability. I know I have that, so it’s more so just having translatable areas where I can be trusted on the ice, and then that stuff will come.”

Pickering never scored double-digit goals during his junior career, topping out at nine for two seasons before scoring seven last season with a career-high 46 points in 59 games.

Penguins president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas met with the prospects before camp and had a simple message. The Penguins are looking for a few of them to step forward and, as 2023 first-round pick Brayden Yager reported, “make an impact.”

The message would align with the Penguins’ roster and the spate of one-year contracts handed out to veterans who have signed since the start of free agency. Presumably as the prospects present themselves ready for NHL action, veterans who can be traded for a future asset would be dealt, and those who can’t would swap places with the prospect in WBS or be claimed on waivers.

It might be a standard motivational tactic for Dubas, but it tracks with the direction of the organization and his words at the NHL Draft when he sidestepped a question about the coming season, opting to say the team needs to get younger and hungrier over the coming years.

“I feel stronger, more explosive, (with) the more weight I put on. That was a struggle. During the year, when I was playing a lot of minutes, I was losing weight or trying really, really hard to keep it on,” Pickering said. “And that’s when I feel weaker on the ice, whether that’s a puck battle or whatnot. So that’s something I need to work on in terms of going to the pro level. So I feel like I’m better at that, with putting weight on as well as just (being) more explosive.”

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Melissa Hart
Melissa Hart
8 days ago

A shot of olive oil…

William Maloni
William Maloni
8 days ago
Reply to  Melissa Hart

More for healthy heart concerns than other issues.

William Maloni
William Maloni
8 days ago

He’ll need the weight and a dose of grit to be successful.

Jerry C.
Jerry C.
8 days ago
Reply to  William Maloni

Two things Petterson should have been told 4 years ago.