Former Boston Junior Bruins NCDC forward and top NCAA free agent Drew O’Connor signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 10.
“Drew is a powerful skater with good hands, which helped him have a very good year at Dartmouth,” Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford told the media after signing the 21-year-old power forward. “We are very happy Drew has joined the Penguins as we feel he can help our NHL club sooner rather than later.”
On March 17, O’Connor had another positive when he was named as an ECAC First Team All-League Selection. He was also the Ivy League Co-Player Of The Year.
The Penguins signed former South Shore Kings/USPHL defenseman John Marino last summer and they have become the model franchise when it comes to signing undrafted NCAA players. A still ecstatic O’Connor told USPHL.com that their willingness to sign and develop such players played a key role in signing with the Penguins.
“Going into my sophomore year at Dartmouth, the idea of leaving school at the end of the season was not something I was considering very strongly,” O’Connor said. “My intention was to return for another season; however, I remained open to the possibility that if the right opportunity presented itself, I would consider it. The Penguins presented that opportunity, and I am incredibly grateful for it.
“Going to an organization that has had so much success with college free agents in recent years was a huge reason for my decision,” O’Connor added. “I think they do an incredible job of developing players within their system and giving good opportunities to all their players. Scott Young, the director of player development, laid out a very clear plan for me, which was another way in which the Penguins differentiated themselves. I'm very excited to get started with them, and for my future as a Penguin.”
When O’Connor was a draft-eligible 18-year-old following his 2016-17 season, every NHL team passed on him at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and word amongst scouts was that his height (5-foot-8) at the time was the main reason. Well, now the Penguins will reap the benefits of what they hope was a mistake by them and 30 other NHL teams at the time because the now 6-foot-3-inch, 190-pound O’Connor could blossom into an elite power forward in the NHL.
O’Connor just finished his sophomore season at Dartmouth with 21 goals and 12 assists in 31 games and during his 65 games with The Big Green, he had 38 goals and 21 assists, which saw him earn several in-season honors to go with his First Team All-League selection.
A Future Forged With The Junior Bruins
Heading into the current NCAA free agent season in the NHL, O’Connor’s stock soared and he became the most coveted player on the market. While his days at Dartmouth surely helped that happen, O’Connor told USPHL.com he and his game greatly benefitted from his time playing with the Junior Bruins during the 2017-18 season.
“I had a great experience with the Junior Bruins in the 2017-18 season,” said O’Connor, who finished that season with 13 goals and 26 assists in 39 games. “Going into juniors, I knew I would only be playing one season before moving onto Dartmouth, so I wanted to go to a place that would focus on my development.
“Coach Mike Anderson and the Junior Bruins gave me the opportunity to play at a high level, and remain closer to home,” added O’Connor. “Meanwhile, between the practices, workouts, and games, I was able to improve many aspects of my game. Their emphasis on player development was very important and translated to me having success in my career at Dartmouth.”
I was able to live with an incredible billet family, the Moores, and they made that year even more special. I had graduated from high school at the time, so the Moore's helped me find a part-time job at Zwicker Hockey a few mornings a week before heading to the rink.”
Unfortunately for O’Connor and other NCAA free agents that have been signed over the last week, they very likely won’t be able to play in the NHL or the AHL right away (or possibly until October) thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic.
O’Connor is back home training now and said he doesn’t regret signing and leaving school now, despite the great uncertainty the state of not just pro hockey but of the entire world now. O’Connor will continue to work towards his degree online and is still thrilled about the future despite the unknown right now.
“I am currently back home, while the AHL/NHL works on forming a plan in terms of the coronavirus situation,” he said. “Being on trimesters at Dartmouth, I just finished up winter term, and plan to enroll in spring classes online to continue working towards obtaining my degree. Despite the unforeseen circumstances regarding the current situation, I am happy with my decision to sign with the Penguins, and am very excited to begin, whenever that may be.”
The USPHL congratulates Drew O’Connor on his fantastic career with Dartmouth College and on signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins.