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Kingerski: Penguins Missed Early Presents on NHL Free Agents

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Pittsburgh Penguins free agent third line center, Carl Soderberg, Tristan Jarry

The chance was there for the Pittsburgh Penguins to solidify their roster, to change gambles into sure things, and to acquire more solid production than they have a chance of receiving. The presents were wrapped and waiting for pickup, but Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford passed.

And the Penguins missed a chance to improve.

The Penguins passed on free agent winger Anthony Duclair and third-line center Erik Haula. The 20-goal scorer Duclair signed for just $1.7 million in Florida. Haula inked a deal with Nashville for just $1.5 million. Haula had 24 points (12g, 12a) split between Vegas and Carolina last season, and he frequently wins well more than 50% of his faceoffs. He is just two seasons removed from a 55-point outburst with Vegas in 2017-18.

Sources also tell PHN the Penguins haven’t even shaken the box on free agent center Carl Soderberg.

“No change,” was the simple response when PHN inquired this week.

With the potential talent on the wings, the Pittsburgh Penguins third line center should be a 30-point position (factoring only 56 games). With the right player, the Penguins’ third-line center could pop for 35 or more points.

After an extensive video and chatting with league sources, PHN cannot project that scoring from Mark Jankowski. A Western Conference NHL scout provided the blunt assessment.

“He’s a fourth-liner, smart, but the skating is average,” the scout said. “I don’t think he can process (the play) quick enough.”

You can read more via PHN+ here.

It certainly doesn’t raise the Penguins’ hopes in a division with five other playoff-worthy teams. Only four will make it. The conglomeration of plucky potential and hope combined with a previous lack of production dots the Penguins’ incoming class of newbies, including free-agent signee Evan Rodrigues and trade acquisition Colton Sceviour.

Winger Zach Aston-Reese will be out until February after offseason shoulder surgery. The Pittsburgh Penguins coaches will cobble together a bottom-six around staples Jared McCann, Teddy Blueger, and Brandon Tanev. But the rest of the crew will be an undetermined mixture of Mark Jankowski, Jordan Nolan, Colton Sceviour, Evan Rodrigues, Sam Lafferty, and Anthony Angello.

Perhaps 2019 first-round pick Sam Poulin can parachute into the Penguins lineup, which would give the bottom-six a dramatically different flavor, but the Penguins cannot count on that, yet.

If the group above doesn’t instill much confidence, we won’t argue.

The Penguins could save somewhere between $1.4 and $2.3 million by placing two or three NHL players on the taxi-squad. Salary Cap space was available.

And that’s why the Penguins and GM Jim Rutherford erred by not grabbing one of the bargain basement free agents. The Atlantic Division is going to be a bruising battle amongst six playoff-capable teams. The Boston Bruins are a legit Stanley Cup contender. The Washington Capitals are deep and stout. The New York Islanders were in the Eastern Conference Final.

The New York Rangers not only snagged the first overall pick via the twisted NHL lottery, which allowed playoff teams into the mix, but their young defensemen such as Anthony DeAngelo and Adam Fox are a year wiser. The Rangers went on a tear at the end of last season and were within a few points of a wild-card spot.

To commemorate Paul McCartney’s new album, which is vintage McCartney with complex yet catchy melodies (McCartney III), a Beatles quote also seems appropriate, but the Penguins won’t get by with a little help from their friends.

The Penguins will indeed need to Come Together. The Helter Skelter NHL season will be unlike any other, and the Penguins need Help.

Maybe I should Let it Be (Ok, I’m done now), but a team that is placing all of its eggs in the basket of the next two seasons can not miss on talented bargains.

Who knows, Maybe I’m Amazed by the Penguins gambles (I guess I wasn’t done). The unprecedented situation gifted the Penguins a chance to solidify the lineup, but those presents went unopened.

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