Less than two weeks remain until the NHL’s April 12th trade deadline and the Pittsburgh Penguins are a shocking success.
Okay. Maybe “shocking” is a bit of an over-exaggeration. But to deny that the Pens have thus far exceeded expectations (especially given their slow start) would be strictly ignorant.
After stumbling out of the gate, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Tristan Jarry seem to have found their game (fingers crossed on Malkin’s return from injury). Meanwhile, Teddy Blueger, Zach Aston Reese, Brandon Tanev and Kasperi Kapanen have all taken their play to the next level. Casey DeSmith has also been phenomenal.
Numerous players deserve considerable credit.
Still, in light of recent comments from President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke, it’s likely that some kind of change is on the horizon.
So without further delay, here are three Penguins predictions heading into the NHL trade deadline:
Jared McCann will be traded
Since joining the team in one of Jimmy Rutherford’s most controversial trades, the Stratford Ontario native has seen the epitome of inconsistency.
Not only in his performance, but also in the manner that he’s utilized.
McCann has spent time with both Crosby and Malkin, where he’s shown stints of productivity and potential; but such instances have unfortunately been outweighed by scoring slumps and injuries.
In his time with the bottom six meanwhile? More often than not, he’s appeared lost. Almost as if Mike Sullivan is attempting to play a bishop in a game of checkers. A reality which was seen distinctly in last year’s qualifying round against the Canadiens (where he was scratched for game three of the series).
In wake of recent injuries however, McCann deserves some significant praise.
Since returning from injury on February 27th, he’s registered 11 points in 13 games and averaged more than 14 minutes per game.
That being said…
Brian Burke recently admitted that the team is looking to add some size to their lineup. Given that the pens appear to be adamant on keeping their youth and draft picks, McCann is arguably their biggest trade-chip.
Marcus Petterson will be traded
The Penguins currently sit with a plethora of left-handed defencemen in their system.
This is a fact that has been pointed out at nauseam, as fans and analysts suggest that one of these lefties could be moved and replaced from within the organization.
Regardless of if you’re talking about Marcus Petterson, Brian Dumoulin, or Mike Matheson, the idea behind this train of thought remains the same:
Use one of them to bring in a forward. Juuso Riikola or Pierre-Olivier Joseph can fill a spot.
While Joseph surprised me deeply this season, shaking some previous skepticism; management sent him down for a reason. He needs to play more than bottom pairing minutes and he won’t get that opportunity with a healthy Penguins defense.
Since being activated from the LTIR three weeks ago, Riikola has yet to see any game-time, which could be a reflection of Mike Sullivan’s rumoured distaste for the Fin.
Getting to the point:
Mike Matheson has a scary cap hit and is actually having a nice season for the Pens.
Brian Dumoulin is arguably the most important defenceman on the team. His defensive responsibility enables Letang’s best offensive showing.
That leaves Marcus Petterson, who’s sound positionally with a knack for safe and efficient puck movement.
But with a management team that has a history of love affairs with more physically tenacious defencemen, Pettersson is the opposite of that.
His 4.025 million cap hit might be a turn off for some GMs, while his youth and term (four years remaining) might have some appeal.
Don’t be surprised if the Penguins swap him for another left-handed D with size and what Burke might call “grit”.
See the likes of Jamie Oleksiak, Brendan Smith and Dimitry Kulikov.
A centre will be acquired
Teddy Blueger has been fantastic this year, but the following narrative seems to persist:
The Penguins like him as the fourth line centre and top penalty killer
I don’t exactly understand this mentality given the way his season has gone. He’s effectively been playing as their third line centre all season. He has done so admirably. But with injuries to both Blueger and Malkin, adding some depth down the middle does make sense.
Jankowski as a figurehead for any line is unlikely to be sustainable and while Freddy Gaudreau has been nothing but impressive, putting long term trust in him might be risky.
Watch for McCann’s involvement on this one.
See the likes of Luke Glendening, Derek Ryan and Alex Kerfoot.
Or if you’re keen on a pipe dream: Ryan Getzlaf.