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What Ron Hextall, Penguins Want at NHL Trade Deadline; Prospects May Play a Role

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NHL Trade deadline, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall

So tell me what he wants, what he really, really wants? With the NHL trade deadline just 10 days away and new prospects arriving, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall addressed the media on Friday morning and did his best to leave a little mystery at PPG Paints Arena.

On several occasions, Hextall specifically delineated the team’s first 35 games, some of which were played without Sidney Crosby and all of which were without Evgeni Malkin. The last 23 games have been a roller coaster of effort, losses, mistakes and dreary performances.

Even the Pittsburgh Penguins GM admitted it had been two different teams.

Slipped into Hextall’s press conference was a harken back to the strategy the 2016 Penguins used effectively. Remember the AHL kids (Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Conor Sheary, and more), who provided a jolt of energy and enthusiasm that kept the war-weary Penguins fresh and energetic.

Hextall would like to see the team play with more energy, which he could address internally. While he said the Penguins prospects aren’t untouchable, he did not give the green light. Instead, he cited a handful as potential solutions to the Penguins energy crisis.

“Well, it depends what part of the season you look at, I guess. I think the first 35 games, we played so well. We had a lot of players out of our lineup, and then let’s be real, also top players. So I thought we did a really good job there,” Hextall said. “I think right now I’d like to see a little bit more energy in our game, a little bit more consistency. So from that standpoint, we’ll see what happens tonight and kind of address those if to go along and, Puusty is up now, and P.O. Is up now. So there are some things that we can do internally here that we’ll continue to evaluate.”

Puusty is 2019 seventh-round pick Valtteri Puustinen, who was recalled on Thursday.

Hextall did his best to avoid specifics but admitted at least one obvious area he would like to address. In his nearly 15-minute press conference, he admitted the Penguins would like a forward. If possible.

The Penguins middle-six, especially Kasperi Kapanen and Evan Rodrigues, have vanished from the score sheets. Kapanen may not play on Friday night against the Vegas Golden Knights, falling so far as to be a healthy scratch.

Sullivan wouldn’t confirm or deny the possibility in his pre-game presser. But Kapanen has just two points (0-2-2) in his last 17 games.

It takes two to tango at the NHL trade deadline, and Hextall confirmed the Penguins are talking to a few teams but pumped the breaks on anything imminent.

“Would we like that a little bit upfront? Yeah, that would be a fair statement, but I think every team would like that a little bit upfront or maybe on the back end. So I feel good. I don’t feel like I have to do anything, but if we can get better, we’re sure we can try,” Hextall said.

Pittsburgh Penguins Prospects

It could be noted Hextall also referenced the prospects in his answer.

“I feel pretty good about the depth of our team. If you look at our defense. We’ve been pretty healthy all year. Obviously, we have guys even down in the minors. P.O. (Joseph). Juuso (Riikola). So I think if you look upfront, you know, we’ve got OC (Drew O’Connor) and Z (Radim Zohorna), and Puustinen, (Filip) Hallander, (Kasper) Bjorkqvist. So I feel good about the depth of our team,” Hextall said.

Did anyone notice he didn’t mention the top 2019 draft picks, Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare? Both have struggled in their professional debut season. The team moved Poulin to center in January.

But I digress.

The Penguins’ middle-six has been non-existent for too many of the last 23 games. Since Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup, the second and third-line wingers have counterintuitively scored less, even as Malkin scores more.

Danton Heinen, Jeff Carter, Kapanen, Brock McGinn, and Evan Rodrigues haven’t scored at a rate commensurate with their role. The Crosby line with Rust and Jake Guentzel currently accounts for about 40% of the Pittsburgh Penguins even-strength offense. Most nights, it seems well more.

The drop-off has created a steep need before the NHL trade deadline unless Hextall bets on one of those players rediscovering their groove.

“When you look at the first, maybe 35 games, the top-scoring was there. And then recently, we can look at the numbers and show who it’s dried up for. So they’re certainly capable of it. I think Kappy had eight goals in the first 35 or so games…,” Hextall said. “So I think, yes, it’s there. I think there are some guys that need to play a little bit better…So yes, I do have confidence that if we can’t do something, we do have enough scoring, but would we like to add a little bit of scoring?

As I said, of course.”

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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GBG
GBG
2 months ago

What is it about the Pens top stars that kill the mojo every year (minus Letang, who remains inexplicably healthy)? Two years ago Malkin carried the team while Crosby was out, who then returned to a drastic drop. Last year and this Malkin returns and kills the middle line. Rodriguez appears to be capable of much more but something has wiped out the grit in the middle lines.

Fredrick
Fredrick
2 months ago
Reply to  GBG

I agree with this. I think E-Rod has showed he could potentially take on a bigger role. I feel like him and Kap are flat and in need of a change of scenery. Or need to get out of their own heads and just play hockey.

Dean
Dean
2 months ago
Reply to  Fredrick

E-Rod has had one hot streak in his career. On average, he is better than he is now. But not sure there is as much upside as people think.

Timbert
Timbert
2 months ago
Reply to  Dean

I think E-Rod showed similar bursts of potential in his earlier days playing on the top lines for Buffalo. If I am not mistaken. I do agree with Fredrick. I think if E-Rod goes somewhere else and Kapanen they both could be successful.

Ed Andrews
Ed Andrews
2 months ago

well time to move some players like they have in the previous years, Zuck and kap, Rikkola and some of the better prospects legace and Polin. it would be nice to see some of the AHLrs, but remeber they need new blood for when the 3 top guys are no longer in Pitts that said please resign Malkin and Tanger.

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
2 months ago

1 line teams are basically living off special teams and hope their goalie stands on his head. You willing to bet on that? Not this fella.

ehasenel
ehasenel
2 months ago

Sometimes you need to stick with players. Yes a jolt of energy from the AHL could be great, but outside of Kapenen, the effort is there from these other guys. They might just need a bit more time, I don’t see what you are going to find from the outside that is better than what the penguins have. Now it is about coaching, the talent is there, the effort is there, they need to stick with it.

Bill Maloni
Bill Maloni
2 months ago

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, just more Bob Nutling!!!!!

Paul
Paul
2 months ago

I feel a whole lot better knowing that Carter will be around for two more seasons. #EnFuego

Last edited 2 months ago by Paul
Uros
Uros
2 months ago

My Porsche is pretty good. I like it and feel confident about it. It should be better after some work in the shop. Would I want to add a Lambo if I get a chance? As I said, of course.

Last edited 2 months ago by Uros
Ethan
Ethan
2 months ago
Reply to  Uros

Say what? Your stick must be broken if you are talking about Porches and Lambos on a Penguin’s blog!

Kris
Kris
2 months ago

I find it both amusing and annoying how your such an expert but continue to bash Poulin and Legare. So where was Guentzel and Rust at age 21? Yep at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and Notre Dame respectively. Not saying they will reach that level, but your expectation that they are Sid Crosby players at age 21 is totally unfounded. There are few elite talent that get taken in the first five or six picks every year that have a chance to play right away in the NHL. Everyone else takes time to develop. You should know this.

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