Penguins 1st-Round Projections, Name to Watch: Isaac Howard, Team USA

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. For most teams, such a sentence is an obvious statement of fact. However, for the Penguins, having more responsibility in Round One than hitting up the complimentary sandwich cart is a novelty. For just the second time since 2014, the Penguins GM will sift through papers, listen to scouts and make a first-round selection.

Probably.

They’ll pick 21st and could trade the pick between now and July 7, but it seems unlikely.

Dave Molinari looked at recent 21st overall picks, including one by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Previous PHN analyzes of GM Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor’s work in Philadelphia showed a few trends in their drafting strategy. The most obvious is to watch for USHL and American kids. Hextall and Pryor, the AGM and director of player personnel with the Flyers under Hextall, pick heavily from the southern side of the Canadian border.

In fact, the Penguins’ first selection (58th overall) last year was Tristan Broz, a Minnesota kid playing for Fargo of the USHL. With five picks, the Penguins selected two Americans in their first four selections.

The US National Development Team in the USHL is stocked with legit first-round talent this year and several kids with elite speed. Multiple draftniks are projecting prospects from the US NDTP for the Penguins, though they differ on which one.

The last couple of NHL drafts have been even more chaotic because of COVID pauses, lack of access, decreased travel and stunted development. There were more than a few surprises last year as teams selected players well beyond their public rankings.

**National Hockey Now draft expert and beat writer covering the Montreal Canadiens, Marco D’Amico, provided Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s selection and player background. Full credit. Follow Marco on Twitter.

We’ll touch on other national mock drafts and Penguins projections, but D’Amico’s fits like a glove.

Pittsburgh Penguins Draft Potential: Isaac Howard, LW, US NTDP

“Isaac Howard is a missile. He attacks open ice like few in this draft and is very explosive in the neutral zone, ”D’Amico wrote. “His explosiveness and his ease with the puck really stand out. In the NHL, there are players who are fast, and then there are players who are fast with the puck, and Howard is both. ”

The winger is a solid 5-foot-10, 182 pounds. In the NHL.com mock draft, expert Adam Kimmelman also noted Howard’s straight-line speed and that he’s hard to play against in the low zone.

That sounds like Penguins material, doesn’t it? Howard, 18, has committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth for next season, so the Penguins wouldn’t need to sign him immediately, either. The drafting team can let him matriculate with the Bulldogs in the NCHC.

Howard had two solid seasons with NDTP. He scored 33 points, with 16 goals in 27 games his U-17 season before upping that total in his U-18 year. This season, Howard scored 37 points (11-26-37) in 27 games. He also upped his PIMs from just four in 2020-21 to 32 this season. While that can be a sign of bad habits, it also means he was more physically involved in the play.

With Team USA, Howard played 60 games this season. He scored 82 points, including 33 goals (33-49-82). He also tied Matt Boldy for fifth in Team USA history with 95 career assists.

Howard, often listed as “Ike Howard,” also had 11 points (6-5-11) in six games at the U-18 World Junior Championships, including a four-goal game to beat Team Canada, 8-3.

Next year, he’ll be a solid contender to make the U-20 WJC team.

His ranking from of other draftniks ranges from 15 to 36. Kimmelman predicted Howard 16th to the St. Louis Blues. Sportsnet has him at 23rd, as does TSN’s Craig Button. The worst is EliteProspects, which has him in the late 30s.

In addition to his speed and ability to play in the low zone, multiple scouts called his shot “deceptive” or “sneaky.”

According to NHL Central Scouting, Howard improved his draft stock this season. His mid-term ranking was the 12th best North American skater, but he improved to ninth in the final rankings.

Marco D’Amico contributed to this story.

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