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Pens land highly-sought college free agent

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Penguins

A rumor started to swirl that caught the attention of Penguins amateur scout Frank Golden.

Golden informed Scott Young that Dartmouth forward Drew O'Connor was considering leaving school following the 2019-20 season, his sophomore campaign, and signing an entry-level deal with an NHL club.

"With players at Ivy League schools we thought he would be there through his junior year," said Young, the Penguins director of player development. "When we started to hear that (rumor), we started to really focus a little bit more on recruiting Drew."

O'Connor, 21, was highly-sought after by many NHL clubs. And it's easy to see why. The Chatham, New Jersey native has a unique blend of size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), scoring touch (38 career goals) and skating.

"When you have that size and you can skate that well and the numbers he's put up over the past two years really jumps out at you," Young said. "You add that goal scoring ability to his heavy shot and his size and it's a very attractive package for a hockey player."

So, the Penguins started a full-court press on O'Connor. Members of the organization, which included Young, met with O'Connor, his family and his advisor. And they were selling the Penguins.

"It's about building relationships," Young said. "It's well known throughout the league that we have had success with college free agents. It's a great destination for college free agents because we've traded away so many draft picks in order to win now.

"When they really start to dive deep and look at teams and teams' depth with their prospects, we're a very attractive destination because they're going to get a chance here."

Young and his team's work paid off on Tuesday when the Penguins inked O'Connor to a two-year contract that will begin with the 2020-21 season.

"When the passion level is so high for a player and to finally get him is a really good feeling," Young said. "You put all the work in and you're not going to win all the battles you face going through this process throughout the year. For this to work out with Drew, we feel great about it.

"We've had so many of our staff members see him play and everybody that's seen him play is really excited about it."

O'Connor, who will report to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League as an amateur tryout for the remainder of the season, ranked fifth in the NCAA with 21 goals in 31 games this season. He was named the NCAA Ivy-League Player of the Year and All-Ivy League First Team.

O'Connor, who posted 38 goals, 21 assists and 59 points in 65 career collegiate games, went undrafted due to his size, but has matured as a late bloomer. And that aspect is what the Penguins are most excited about.

"We think the potential for Drew, he's just going to get better and it's going to happen at a quick pace," Young said. "He grew from his junior year of high school eight inches. Now he's 6-3. That happened so fast. And he's 200 pounds.

"It's a good size, but I believe there is still another level of strength that he can reach because he put that on so fast. That's what's really exciting about having him with us and his future."

Photo credit: Doug Austin/Dartmouth Athletics

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