The largest domino in the NHL trade market has fallen. The resulting fallout and the quality of the remaining trade targets available to center hungry teams greatly benefit the Pittsburgh Penguins, in a couple ways.
The Matt Duchene saga finally concluded, earlier this week. The Ottawa Senators and Nashville Predators were big winners, in the short term, as they upgraded their pivot positions. However, most importantly for Pittsburgh, the Penguins direct Metropolitan Division rivals missed a great opportunity to counter the Penguins distinct center advantage.
Direct Penguins rivals, the New York Rangers, and Columbus Blue Jackets made strong pitches for Duchene. The Rangers were off to a slow start, but have won five straight. Top line center Mika Zibanejad found his form (17 GP, 8g, 10a) and would have greatly benefited from a counterpart. The Rangers are in great need of a middle-6 center.
Columbus would have vaulted to the top of the Penguins’ Eastern Conference challengers with a top end center to pair with Alex Wennberg. Now, their options are limited.
By landing Duchene, Ottawa upgraded at the center position, but they did not get deeper because they also up traded talented center Kyle Turris.
New Trade Targets: RNH
The Rangers and Blue Jackets are still looking for dance partners. However, the trade market for impact centers is now interesting but soft…unless Islanders franchise center John Tavares becomes available.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leads the list of potentially available players down the middle. Nugent-Hopkins has solid second-line center numbers this season, 6g, 5a, in 15 games. But, numbers can be deceiving.
Nugent-Hopkins has good playmaking skills and elevates his teammates in the offensive zone, but he had just four points during Edmonton’s two-round playoff run. RNH is talented, but he isn’t the dynamic or big game center with leadership skills who is able to individually drive a team to greater heights.
He could help the Rangers or Blue Jackets, but such a deal would not vault either ahead of the Penguins.
New Trade Targets: Alex Galchenyuk
Someday, the Montreal Canadiens may realize what they have with Alex Galchenyuk. While much of the league would love to add Milwaukee native, the Canadiens can’t settle on a role or even position for Galchenyuk.
A natural center, the young Galchenyuk, 23, has struggled to meet head coach Claude Julien‘s defensive expectations in the middle, so he has largely played left wing. A similar situation also developed with previous Canadiens coach, Michel Therrien.
After 44 points in 61 games last season, Galchenyuk stumbled out of the gate this season. He has just six points in the first 15 games.
The Canadiens have treated Galchenyuk like a child with an old toy: They have little interest until someone else has interest. Galchenyuk has recently snapped his sluggish play and is earning bigger minutes. So, current sentiment is he will not be dealt.
Wait a few weeks. That could change. But, it’s hard to define Galchenyuk’s ceiling because he is still defined more as potential than realized production. He could be a missing piece or also frustrate a new team.
New Entry: Sam Bennett
Rumors swirled yesterday from TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who reported the Calgary Flames are taking calls on young, talented center Sam Bennett. Get the full report and more rumours from Bob, here
Bennett, 21, has yet to realize his potential. In fact, this season has been a Sahara-like dry spell for Bennett. The 6-foot tall center has been held scoreless in 15 games. He had just 26 points in 81 games last season.
Bennett is a gritty player who can be a pain to play against, even if he isn’t scoring.
Bennett was the Calgary Flames first round pick, fourth overall, in 2014. His name on the trade block presents an interesting dilemma for center-hunting teams. Do they pay for Bennett’s potential and hope he hits his stride this year, or look for a safer choice?
With just an $832,000 cap hit, Bennett could be a perfect gamble for the Penguins, pending the price.
Penguins Well Positioned
Since the teams who had the most to gain by acquiring Duchene did not make the trade, the Penguins are comparatively in a better situation. The Penguins have a little more time to evaluate third line center Riley Sheahan and his fit with the team, while others search for answers at second and third line center.
If the Rangers or Blue Jackets want to unseat the Penguins, they will have to be bold–and, they are again in direct competition with each other.
Since each missed on Duchene, perhaps one or both will display more urgency with other opportunities. In fact, they will have to display some urgency and perhaps pay more…which also benefits the Penguins.
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