Let’s get this out of the way right now. If Owen Pickering was a right-handed shot, he would probably be a top-10 pick in this year’s draft. Heck, he might still be. After all, in today’s NHL wouldn’t any GM want a potential first-pair defenseman who can skate and win board battles? That’s the dream!
It’s also the potential that Pickering possesses. The NHL Draft is all about figuring which 18-year-olds are going to reach their potential, and which ones will not. There are still enough questions about the Manitoba native that he isn’t a lock for the top-half of the upcoming draft. He could still be lingering around by the time Julien BriseBois steps up to the podium in Montreal to make his first round pick for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
If the Lightning did select the 6’5”, 179 lbs. defenseman from the Swift Current Broncos what would they be getting? In summery, a large blue-liner with a smooth skating stride that can defend in his own zone and transition play into the offensive zone. That’s not a bad baseline to work with.
Pickering has been a bit of a late-bloomer among the prospects in this year’s draft, not only in terms of rankings, but also size. He was ranked 21st by Central Scouting
in the January rankings, but shot up to 15th in their most recent posting. Not only that, but just three years ago, when he was drafted 177th in the WHL Bantam Draft by Swift Current, he was just 5’7”, 131 lbs.
As our friends over at Eyes on the Prize point out in their preview on Pickering, learning to play defense as a smaller player helped him become a better player now that he has put on size. Defending as a small player you have to learn how to use other attributes like positioning and stick work to break up plays as opposed to relying on raw physicality. Now, Pickering can do both.
So, with all of these positive attributes, how in the world will the Lightning have a shot at him with the 31st pick? Well, number one, because the NHL is the NHL. Despite all of the data now available to them, general managers still sometimes make weird picks. Also, some teams may be blinded by an anchoring bias, the tendency to make decisions based on initial impressions. Early in the scouting process for this season Pickering was seen as a late-first round, possible second round pick. For some teams that impression may be stuck in their minds and his strong play down the stretch may not change their minds.
He also does have some issues that might make a team wary. As excellent of a self-contained breakout machine that he may be with his ability to skate, sometimes his choice of passes can be questionable. More times than not he relies on the safe, simple breakout pass as opposed to looking for something that might be a little more dangerous offensively. That in itself isn’t bad, but at times his passes can be a bit wonky and lead to turnovers.
The good news is that passing is a teachable skill. Repetition, comfort within a system, and better teammates can lead to a vast improvement in that skill. Pickering isn’t going to jump right into the NHL no matter when he’s drafted, there will be time for him to improve that skill set. Despite the trade of Ryan McDonagh, the Lightning still have a decent left-side of the defense for the near future and can afford to let Pickering develop in juniors, and the AHL if necessary.
If he is available to the Lightning at 31, they would be able to pick up a potentially solid piece for their future.