PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) – Free agency begins on Wednesday and with what little money the Pens have they can search for bigger players. They took the first step Saturday in the NHL Draft, picking five teenagers. All at least 6’ tall.
“You would always like to get a little bigger, a little edgier,” said Penguins Director of Player Personnel Chris Pryor. “As you know in the playoffs, it gets very competitive.”
The defensemen are at least 6’2” and one is 6’5”.
“You got to be careful you don’t sacrifice on the other end,” Pryor said. “There is a balance there. All three of these kids have size, but can play the game. They all bring a little different look. They all bring size.”
Isaac Belliveau is a left-handed shot ranked as the 75th best North American skater by NHL central scouting and selected in the fifth round. In 37 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Belliveau had five goals and 12 assists.
“He can play both sides of the puck,” Pryor said. “Sometimes he gets caught up and has to tone it down a bit. There is a lot there to like. He’s a bigger kid. He’s got a lot going for him. He has a little edge to his game. He has some puck game.”
“In the draft we are trying to get a little bit bigger if we can without losing a skill set. He checks a lot of boxes. He has a lot of promise, we are fortunate he was there when we picked.”
Ryan McCleary is the first seventh round selection, a right-hand shooting defenseman standing 6’2”, 180 pounds who just turned 17. He was second on his Western Hockey League team as a plus 11 in 18 games with two goals and five assists. His dad, Trent, played 192 NHL games split between the Senators, Bruins and Canadians.
The next seventh rounder is 6’5, left-hand shot defenseman Daniel Laatsch. The 19-year-old played for Sioux City in the USHL with two goals and 17 assists and a plus 23 in 51 games. He will play college hockey at Wisconsin. Pryor says he has a big upside once he grows into his body.
The final pick is a 19-year-old, left-hand shooting winger from the KHL, Kirill Tankov. Pryor describes him as playing with good size at 6’1” and is long and lean. They plan on letting Tankov develop in Russia.
Pryor used the word a lot, upside, with this group. With that means a slower route to the NHL. The path may not be as quick as some hoped, but the Pens are addressing the management edict for size and they believe doing so without losing skill.