The 2022 NHL Draft is upon us, and for the first time since 2019, the Pittsburgh Penguins are in line to make a selection in the first round. Coincidentally, Pittsburgh also picked 21st overall that year, selecting Samuel Poulin of the QMJHL's Sherbrooke Phoenix.
This year's draft is unique in that, after the top seven or eight picks, there isn't much understanding of where each prospect will land. Here are a few prospects that could be available for the Penguins at pick 21.
Brad Lambert - Center
Lambert may be the biggest enigma of this draft class. Once thought to be a top-three pick, he has dropped dramatically in most scouts' draft rankings. The pure talent is there for Lambert, but he hasn't been able to put it all together yet in Finland.
The 18-year-old center had a rough season between JyP and Pelicans of SM-Liiga, scoring only four goals and 10 points in 49 games. Lambert skated back into the spotlight at the start of the 2022 U-20 World Junior Championships by scoring a goal and four assists in Finland's first two games. Unfortunately, the tournament was canceled due to COVID.
Lambert may not be the most NHL-ready prospect, but he has the tools to eventually become a solid contributor at the NHL level. If the Penguins can round out the edges of his game, he could become one of the best players from this draft class.
Denton Mateychuk - Left Defense
Looking at the Penguin's current prospect pool, they need help in many positions, but defense is chief among them. I highlighted Mateychuk last month as a potential pick for the Penguins, and time has only reinforced that belief.
Mateychuk is an undersized defenseman at 5'11" but makes up for it with his skating ability. Touted as one of the fastest players in this draft, the Manitoba native has garnered plenty of interest in recent months, catapulting up most scouts' draft boards. He finished last season with 13 goals and 64 points in 65 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL.
Defense may be a priority for the Penguins in this year's draft, and Mateychuk is my top choice for the blue line.
Rutger McGroarty - Left Wing
If the Penguins select McGroarty in the first round, it will be a "best available pick" instead of positional need. While the Penguins don't have a deep prospect pool, they are the deepest on the wing.
Nevertheless, McGroarty is a solid prospect out of the U.S. National Team Development Program who has a knack for finding the soft spot in the offensive zone. The biggest issue in his game is skating, which falls in line with former first round pick Sam Poulin.
Highlights of his game are an overall steady defensive mindset, and the ability to make himself available for open passes in the offensive slot. McGroarty is committed to playing for the University of Michigan next year.
Conor Geekie - Center
Geekie is expected to be selected in the mid-teens of the first round, making this a long shot. However, he is also a potential candidate to slide down to 21. The 18-year-old center spent last season with the Winnipeg Ice, one of the top junior teams in the WHL. Playing on a line with fellow 2022 draft prospect Matthew Savoie, Geekie finished the season with over a point per game (70 points in 63 games).
A true power forward, Geekie is 6'3" and weighs 196 pounds, which is great for adapting to the pro style of play, but his skating ability needs to be worked on, giving him an awkward stride that needs to be figured out in the minors.
Draft day is here, and the Penguins should have plenty of options at pick 21.
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