The preseason is always a fun time in the NHL. This is where teams get to experiment with lines as well as figure out who will make the team and who won’t. In the case of the Pittsburgh Penguins, they have some big decisions to make. With some star players out of commission, they need all the help they can get. However, there’s been one player that’s been standing out more than others. This begs the question: will Drew O’Connor make the Penguins’ roster?
O’Connor’s Career So Far
The Chatham, New Jersey, native certainly has had an interesting career so far. He played for the North Jersey Avalanche 18U AAA in the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League during the 2015-2016 season, which would’ve been his draft year. The only thing is that O’Connor wasn’t drafted. This was especially surprising because he put up respectable numbers with 18 points in 23 games.
This didn’t dissuade O’Connor. Instead, he played one more season with the North Jersey Avalanche, moved on to the Boston Jr. Bruins and finally made it into the NCAA during the 2018-2019 season. As a member of Dartmouth College’s Big Green, he notched a total of 38 goals and 59 points in 65 games. This caught the eye of the Penguins, who then signed him to an entry-level contract on March 10, 2020.
To say the 2020-2021 season was hectic for O’Connor would be an understatement. In that season, he was loaned to the Manglerud Star of Norway’s GET league, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL and then finally played ten games for the Penguins, notching one assist in the process. He showed a few flashes of potential in those ten games, but nothing substantial. Now, that’s a different story.
What’re His Odds?
O’Connor has blown up this preseason. Despite not scoring in the first three games of the preseason, he lit the lamp against the Buffalo Sabres. He was the main driving factor in Pittsburgh’s rally against a two-goal deficit as he scored the Penguins’ first two goals. It was clear that he is gaining more confidence with the puck, which will make him an invaluable asset.
O’Connor is usually exclusively a left-winger, but Pittsburgh’s head coach Mike Sullivan may want to use him as a center. Sullivan said that he is convinced that O’Connor has all of the components to be a reliable center. This opportunity to prove himself couldn’t come at a better time for O’Connor due to the dire circumstances the Penguins face.
With both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out for the beginning of the season, Pittsburgh needs more options at center. As of right now, Teddy Blueger, Jeff Carter and Brian Boyle are the only certain centers on the opening roster. It looks like the frontrunners for that last spot are O’Connor, Radim Zohorna and Evan Rodrigues. If O’Connor continues to play like he has, however, there’s no contest.
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