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3 Former Penguins Forwards Worthy of Bringing Back



Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby

The Pittsburgh Penguins offseason is one month old as of Sunday, and the NHL free agent frenzy is less than six weeks away, as the hockey world enjoys the bruising calm before the storm known as the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final, which will extend over the next four weeks.

Over the past couple of offseasons, the Penguins have experienced a surprising amount of roster turnover, even as the situation seems static because the roster foundation remains the same.

The Penguins’ roster is largely set as of now. The team will need to deal with Jeff Carter’s retirement, which means they’ll need a combination of scoring, penalty-killing, and right-handed faceoffs.

Finding a player who can fill a little bit of the leadership void created by Carter’s departure wouldn’t be a terrible idea, either.

However, those types of players are not easy to find. Since the Penguins have not found the results they needed with a player like Carter, perhaps they can improve with different talents in the lineup.

On paper, the Penguins have only one spot in their four lines, as Noel Acciari is under contract for two more years, and Jesse Puljujarvi is also under contract for another season at $800,000.

However, Reilly Smith’s future in a Penguins uniform seems tenuous. He has just one season remaining on a contract with a $5 million cap hit, and he significantly underperformed last season. Valtteri Puustinen’s lagging performance of 20 points in 52 games with limited contributions in other parts of the game should not guarantee a roster spot, possibly creating more space in the Penguins lineup.

As Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas prepares his shopping list to try to return the 204-25 Penguins to the playoffs after a two-year absence, a few former Penguins forwards might be suitable additions. The list also includes a surprise who could help the Penguins power play and one who could bring grit and scoring to the bottom six.

There are a handful of former Penguins who will be free agents. The most notable is the recently traded Jake Guentzel, but it remains highly unlikely, if not a guarantee, that the Penguins will not bring him back. So, he’ll not appear on the list.

3 Former Penguins to Reconsider

Jason Zucker, LW

Zucker, 32, might find himself again without a big-money, long-term contract. He signed a one-year deal with the now-departed Arizona Coyotes last July. His speed, straightforward offensive game, and personality fit well with the Penguins’ top six and locker room.

Zucker would shuffle several lineup spots. Drew O’Connor, Rickard Rakell, and Puustinen would be shuffled to a different side or lower spot in the Penguins lineup. Zucker would take a LW spot, moving O’Connor to the right side, perhaps Rakell to the third line with Lars Eller, and Puustinen to the fourth line.

Of course, O’Connor could take the third-line spot, keeping Rakell in the top six, too.

I won’t lie, dealing with the daily Zucker-Bryan Rust locker room roast would make going to work a bit more fun, too.

Zucker had a less-than-desirable statistical year split between Arizona and the Nashville Predators, scoring 14 goals with only 32 points in 69 games. Zucker has a lot more to give, and the Penguins could swipe a top-six winger at a comparative bargain price, leaving funds for other needs, if the two sides are open to a reunion.

Daniel Sprong, RW

The 27-year-old was the Penguins’ 2015 second-round pick (46th overall) but never stuck in the lineup before former GM Jim Rutherford traded him to Anaheim for Marcus Pettersson.

Since that 2018 trade, Sprong has floated from Anaheim to Washington to Seattle and Detroit. This season, Detroit relegated him to the bottom of the lineup, and he averaged just 12 minutes per game.

Oh, Sprong’s game has black holes large enough that it would take a Stephen Hawking equation to define them. However, Sprong had 18 goals in 76 games and 21 goals last season with Seattle despite playing just 11:25 per game.

Some estimates placed Sprong’s next paycheck over $3 million per season, but the transient nature of Sprong’s career looks more like Danton Heinen, who consistently signs one-year deals close to $1 million, than that of a consistent 20-goal scorer. The winger could add some offense to the sandy, barren Penguins’ fourth line.

Sprong could also add some scoring punch to the Penguins’ second power-play unit. If the cost is commensurate with a fourth-liner who can score, it would make sense.

Stefan Noesen, LW/RW

He was briefly a Pittsburgh Penguins forward but more so a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward. Noesen played only six NHL games and 22 games in the AHL before the San Jose Sharks snagged him off waivers in December 2019.

Read More: The Penguins Waive Noesen, But Why Now?

Noesen has played two full seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes without the up-and-down shuttle to the AHL and has performed well. He scored 13 goals last season and 14 this season, with 36 and 37 points, respectively.

Noesen, 31, is a poor man’s sniper or a solid bottom-six scorer. In the past, his defensive awareness was called into question, but if he can hang in the Carolina system, that should put to rest any doubts about his ability to play on the tough side of the blue line.

Carolina has a bevy of free agents, including Guentzel, which will swallow their salary cap space.