After being drafted 21st overall by the Penguins in the 2022 NHL draft, Owen Pickering had the misfortune of being hindered by injuries each of the last two offseasons. But this summer, the 20-year-old defenseman is feeling good as he prepares for his first season of professional hockey.

“It's been a couple of tough training camps for Pick not being able to participate,” Assistant General Manager Jason Spezza said. “So we're excited to have him, we're excited to see that he’s healthy. This is a big summer for him. Turning pro, it's a big jump from junior hockey. So, I love that he has enthusiasm, wants to come in and bang the door down and make the Penguins. We'll welcome that challenge and judge him by how he's playing, and put him on the right path.”

Pickering is coming off his fourth season with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League, where he tallied seven goals and 39 assists in 59 games played. While the point totals are nice, the blueliner worked on shoring up his game in his own end.

“I think this year I focused a lot on my defensive game, making sure I was ready to transfer it that way,” Pickering said. “I was drafted because I have offensive ability, so I know I have that. It’s more so just having translatable areas where I can be trusted on the ice.”

Pickering speaks with the media

Pickering, who served as team captain for the Broncos, continues to evolve as a leader and is someone the development staff relies on in that regard. He is rooming with one of Pittsburgh’s 2024 second-round draft picks, Harrison Brunicke. The two defensemen played against each other in the WHL last year, and are pushing each other to be better on the ice.

“He's obviously been here for a while. He's kind of leading me along,” Brunicke laughed. “I’m following after him, maybe, a little bit. Having him, he’s a great guy.”

This offseason, Pickering is focusing on adding weight to his 6’5 frame. He was around 188 pounds in April when Swift Current got eliminated by Brayden Yager and the Moose Jaw Warriors in the second round of the WHL playoffs. Pickering says he’s been able to get up to 200 pounds in the months since then.

“I feel stronger, more explosive, the more weight I put on,” he said. “That was a struggle during the year when I was playing a lot of minutes. I was trying really, really hard to keep it on. And that's when I feel weaker on the ice, whether that’s a puck battle or whatnot. So, that's something I need to work on in terms of going to the pro level.”

While Pickering is preparing to make that jump this year, this won’t be his first taste of pro hockey. He made his AHL debut in the 2022-23 season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he played in eight games. The Manitoba native was only 18 then, and believes the weight he has added will be a big difference-maker going into this season.

“I was a lot skinnier when I played in the [AHL] a couple years ago, and a lot less mature. I feel like I'm more ready for pro hockey now,” said Pickering, who also joined WBS this spring to be around the environment despite not playing.

Pickering is eating 6-7 meals daily, including a morning shot of olive oil to ensure he starts getting calories as early as possible.

“There’s certain tricks according to the dietitian,” Pickering said. “She’s great at it. I talk to her a lot, she helps me. So, I just kind of put it in their hands and they tell me what to do, and I just kind of do it.”

It’s all part of the plan to capitalize on such an important summer of development, with Spezza saying that Pickering is off to a great start.

“We'll try to use this as a springboard for the rest of the summer, and get him in here and get him up and rolling,” Spezza said.