J.J. Piccinich thrived with the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL in his draft year, and the Toronto Maple Leafs noticed it. The club selected the Paramus, New Jersey native 103rd overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, snagging the second-highest scoring skater on that year’s Youngstown roster in the fourth round.
The plan, ideally, was for Piccinich to continue his development with the Boston University Terriers. He came on board during a miraculous turnaround year for the club, where the Division I school overcame a historically bad season to dominate the NCAA in their 2014-2015 campaign. The following year, Piccinich would then be joined by another of his Youngstown teammates, centre Maxim Letunov – but that’s reportedly not going to happen anymore.
Numerous sources indicate BU 96 F JJ Piccinich (TOR 4th rd pick) will sign with OHL’s London Knights this season. 6th rd OHL pick in ’12
— Over The Boards (@OTBPuckWatch) July 22, 2015
Piccinich was a depth selection for the Knights in 2012, but that’s hardly a surprise. The Knights remain perennially competitive by selecting high-upside NCAA commits in mid to late round picks, gambling on the chance that the skaters will decommit from their colleges and opt for the major juniors instead. It’s a common enough practice among all CHL clubs, but the Knights make it a regular habit.
It’s certainly paying off here, though.
With the Terriers, Piccinich was trapped in a deep lineup and forced back into the shutdown offense position he had once played in the USHL. Where he’d begun to develop an effective game with the Phantoms as both a penalty killer and a power play specialist in his draft year, the 6 foot winger was given limited minutes in sheltered situations only.
With the option to head to the Knights, though, Piccinich knows that he can carve out a role for himself as a mid-line forward with more of a defensively responsible game than many OHL players can offer. He’s got that scoring upside he developed in his draft season, which will give him enough all around value in London and the experience he gained in the NCAA to hopefully finish rounding out his game and succeed at the NHL level one day.
Although the Toronto prospect likely hopes his game can break out more in London, though, he’s not exactly moving from a talented team to a group of unknowns.
Had he stayed in Boston, he would have had the opportunity to play with former Youngstown teammate Maxim Letunov next year. Instead, he’ll be in a lineup with potential future Leafs teammate Mitch Marner – but he’s unlikely to be debuted on a line with the star forward. He’s also going to be competing for space with Matthew Tkachuk (who committed earlier in the year) and Max Jones, both of whom were considered bigger stars while playing for the US National Development program than Piccinich was with Youngstown. He has age and experience over them, but that still leaves him with Owen MacDonald – who will likely look for a bigger role next year – to compete with for a mid-line position; that’s not even considering whether the Arizona Coyotes will keep Christian Dvorak in their lineup or return him to the OHL.
With only a handful of minutes a night in Boston, though, Piccinich has almost certainly made the best choice for his development by heading to London.