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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pens Picks: Connor Hall by @SpinMeWrite

Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Penguins
 And just like that, the Beau Bennett patience project is over. On the second day of the draft the Penguins sent Bennett back into the arms of Ray Shero with the New Jersey Devils in exchange for their third round, 77th overall pick. Don't get me wrong - I wish nothing but the best for Bennett. He's a tremendous talent who has had extraordinarily bad luck in his career. I was really rooting for him but this trade doesn't feel like such a loss for me. For Beau's sake, here's hoping the Devils have a stellar medical staff and conditioning team.

With that third round pick, the Pens selected 18-year-old defenseman Connor Hall of the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Jim Rutherford made it clear before the draft that they would be looking to stock the blue liners but many were surprised that they went with a shutdown, stay-at-home defender akin to Ian Cole or Ben Lovejoy as opposed to adding to the speed game. 

“You have to have both,” he said. “It’s important that guys can skate. But you have to have guys that can play physical and defend. Both of these guys [Hall and 4th round pick Ryan Jones] can.”

Randy Sexton, Director of Amateur Scouting, added, "Their puck skills are sufficient to play the way we want to play. And they bring a certain dimension that we currently don't have, particularly if we're not able to get (unrestricted free agent) Ben Lovejoy re-signed. ... They bring a physical edge and a dimension that we don't have enough of in our depth chart right now.”

While you may not get a lot of offensive production from Hall, he has a certain toughness and work ethic that the coaches and personnel value. Former Penguin and current Kitchener Rangers coach Jay McKee had nothing but praise for the tough-nosed Hall.

“He’s one of those guys where it’s almost like you went back in time and pulled him out of the late 80s,” McKee said of the 6-foot-2, 190-pound defenseman. “He’s got a real edge to his game. He’s a guy that loves to play the body, has a real physical edge, he’s a great teammate and I think his offensive abilities are probably underrated.”

Hall did not look like a third round pick to start last season. He missed the first half of the season because of suspension for a check to the head and then a broken jaw injury. He battled back during the second half of season and was invited to play on Canada's U18 Championship team because of his improved play. 

“He came the longest way of all the defensemen on our team in my eyes last year,” McKee said. “He missed a lot of time and in training camp last year he was a little bit off and once he got back and worked his tail off, he was one of our top D-men at the end of the season."

Hall is scheduled to attend the annual prospect development camp at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex starting today through July 2.

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