Penguins select Swift Current defenseman Owen Pickering in 1st round of NHL Draft

MONTREAL — Armed with a first-round pick in the NHL Draft for the first time in three years, the Penguins selected defenseman Owen Pickering of the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos with the 21st overall selection Thursday at the Belle Centre.

Pickering, a left-handed shot, is listed at 6-foot-5 and 178 pounds. A native of St. Adolphe, Manitoba, the 18-year-old Pickering appeared in 62 WHL games last season and scored 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists).

“I’m a big, good-skating, two-way defenseman, and I work hard,” Pickering told ESPN. “I feel like I’m going to be a good ambassador for the organization, and I’m super excited to be a Penguin.”

Pickering saw his draft stock rise dramatically over the course of the last year. Part of that was a continuing growth spurt. He said he was 5-7 three years ago. Another factor was a strong performance at the World Under-18 championships for Team Canada. He was named one of the tournament’s top three players.

The primary strength of Pickering’s game is his size and his ability to use his long reach to his defensive advantage. He is also known for his poise with the puck. His offensive potential has been largely untapped, although scouts believe it can develop. His greatest weakness could be his lack of physical strength as a particularly lanky teenager.

Pickering led all prospects at the NHL Scouting Combine in the VO2 stationary bike endurance test, pedaling almost 30 seconds longer than any other player in the class. He also played baseball as a pitcher and second baseman growing up and can play the violin.

Pickering has been compared to 6-3 Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Travis Sandheim, the first player general manager Ron Hextall chose after he took over the reins of that team in 2014. Pickering said he wears No. 27 in tribute to Scott Niedermayer, and Miro Heiskanen of Dallas is his favorite defenseman to watch.

“Guess I’ll say Kris Letang now,” Pickering joked on ESPN.

The remainder of the draft will conclude Friday. Barring any transactions, the Penguins are scheduled to have the following selections:

Round 4 — No. 118 overalls

Round 5 — No. 150 overalls

Round 6 — No. 182 overall

Round 7 — No. 214 overalls

The Penguins’ second-round pick (No. 53 overall) went to the Anaheim Ducks as part of a trade that brought forward Rickard Rakell to Pittsburgh in March.

Meanwhile, the Penguins’ third-round pick (No. 86 overall) went to the Los Angeles Kings as part of a trade that brought forward Jeff Carter to Pittsburgh in April 2021.

Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at srorabaugh@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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