The Pittsburgh Penguins prospect system isn't exactly flooded with top tier prospects. According to Scott Wheeler of The Athletic, the Penguins currently have the 29th ranked prospect system in the NHL. This article is the final of a series of articles breaking down the Penguin's prospects by position.
Few areas of the Penguins organization have seen the type of overhaul that the blue line has undergone since Ron Hextall was named general manager at both the NHL and prospect level. This summer, the organization cut ties with defense prospects Niclas Almari, Cam Lee, Will Reilly, and Juuso Riikola. In return, Hextall has utilized five of his ten draft picks thus far on blue liners, making up the majority of this list.
5. Colin Swoyer
Swoyer signed with the Penguins this past March as a college free agent following his senior season at Michigan Tech. At 6'0", Swoyer is a bit undersized compared to the other defensemen brought in under the Hextall regime but makes up for it with his skating ability.
Swoyer scored 23 points (5-18) in 36 games during his senior season at Michigan Tech. The 24-year-old blueliner finished last season with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, where he played five games before signing a one-year entry-level contract with the Penguins.
4. Nolan Collins
One of the most recent additions to the Penguins organization, Collins is a big-bodied defenseman out of the OHL. Collins was one of three Penguins defensemen taken last month in Montreal at the NHL draft, selected in the sixth round. At 6'3", Collins fits the mold of the Hextall defense prospect but also brings an offensive touch to his game.
His skating and puck moving abilities are impressive, but bouts of inconsistency in his rookie season last year caused his draft stock to drop. Collins finished the season with 18 points (4-14) in 65 games.
3. Isaac Belliveau
Belliveau is one of the most intriguing defense prospects for the Penguins. He had a terrific first season in the QMJHL, scoring 53 points (11-42) in 62 games with the Rimouski Oceanic. However, his development was severely hampered (as were many others) by the COVID-19 pandemic. A shortened draft year muddied the water surrounding Belliveau, but the Penguins still selected him in the fifth round of the 2021 draft.
While standing at 6'2" and 185 pounds, Belliveau is touted as an offensive defenseman. Skating isn't his greatest strength, but his elusiveness and long skating stride offer hope for him to make it one. Belliveau finds most of his success in his zone exits. With great vision, the 19-year-old often makes a solid first pass but can carry the puck out of the zone if nothing is available.
2. Owen Pickering
A different level of pressure comes with being a first-round pick, but Pickering has shown poise and polish in his first month in the Penguins organization. The 18-year-old native of St. Adolphe, Manitoba, is very early in his development but excelled in his first full season in the WHL. Pickering produced 33 points (9-24) in 62 games for the Swift Current Broncos in 2022.
His large frame (6'4" 181 lbs.) provides a stark reminder of what Hextall is looking at for the future of the defense position in Pittsburgh. Even more impressive is his smooth skating ability, which opens up the offensive side of his game. There is plenty of runways left until we see Pickering play professionally, but he is already the prized possession of the Penguin's prospect pool.
1. P.O. Joseph
Let's be completely honest. Joseph is the final defensive holdover from the Jim Rutherford regime and is running out of time to make his mark. Still a promising young talent, Joseph has spent the past three seasons attempting to make the jump to the NHL level but has found little success in staying there. In his couple of stints with the Penguins, Joseph has shown glimpses of being a solid top four option at the NHL level but couldn't find that level consistently.
For that reason, this is a big year for Joseph. All indications are that Joseph will have an opportunity to make the team out of camp, but with eight other NHL caliber defensemen under contract, he will have to impress to earn that spot.
If you want to read our other Penguins prospect rankings, click the link below.
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