Monday evening at 5 pm was the deadline for NHL teams to tender offers to Restricted Free Agents. The annual purging of underperforming young players and players who don’t merit a 10% raise, has put a few intriguing players on the table. The 2017 list includes formerly sought-after and talented players such as 2012 Buffalo Sabres first round selection Mikhail Grigorenko.
Typically, non-qualified players offer little value to high-end teams looking for pieces to complete a Stanley Cup defense. However, the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves in a unique situation with not just one, but two open bottom-six pivot positions and a lack of qualified candidates in the system.
Non-qualified RFA’s are free to sign anywhere without the new team owing compensation to the former team.
In addition to the Colorado Avalanche turning Grigorenko loose, the St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers also said goodbye to depth players with potential upside.
The New York Rangers weren’t able to make consistent use of center Brandon Pirri or former Penguins defenseman Adam Clendening, but that doesn’t mean the Penguins couldn’t make use of either.
Full disclosure–after seeing Clendening up close for a half season in 2015 (with the Penguins) and several games in a New York Rangers sweater, I have little doubt any team which commits to Clendening and works to refine his game will be rewarded.
Clendening, 24, had 11 points in just 31 games for the Rangers. He’s a good skater with strong puck movement skills. He also has a good feel to run a power play. His defensive mistakes have decreased and could be attributed to sporadic ice time. If Trevor Daley signs elsewhere, the Penguins could elevate Schultz to the second pairing and team the right-handed Clendening with Maatta as a third pair.
Pirri, 26, scored 22 goals in 2014-15 for the Florida Panthers but had just two assists. Pirri failed to cement his place in the Florida line-up and was dealt to Anaheim at the 2016 trade deadline. He scored five points in nine games for the Ducks but was a little sought free agent last summer.
Pirri was the Chicago Blackhawks 2009 2nd round selection but rubbed some in that organization with a presumptive attitude. He is a shoot first, shoot often centerman and a streaky scorer.
If the market is again soft on Pirri, the Penguins could add Pirri as an insurance policy against finding better options this summer. They also may find a more mature player who benefits from a strong organization with expectations.
Grigorenko is a natural center who was pressed into duty on the flank in Colorado. The NHL has been waiting for the 23-year old to become a great Russian player, but it so far hasn’t happened. In five seasons, beginning when he was 18, the 6-3, 209-pound player has not eclipsed 27 points. The last two seasons in Colorado have been his first full campaigns. Buffalo shuffled the big-bodied Russian between the NHL and juniors, AHL before sending him to the Avs.
Grigorenko has failed to assert himself, but his offensive potential is unquestioned. A little fun from MileHighSticking.com on the Fansided network:
“He is a great third line center asset, but those are likely J.T. Compher’s minutes for the foreseeable future. He’s also not a great skater, and that’s probably what really hurt him with the current mold of the team.” (Read the rant on the link, above).
Grigorenko’s possession metrics aren’t great (47.2%), but he played on a terrible team and his numbers rapidly increased over the last few years.
One wonders what a Russian role model like Evgeni Malkin could do? And if a young Russian protege would spur Malkin further?
St. Louis Blues
The Penguins should have zero interest in Yakupov. Someone may figure out how to resuscitate the 2012 top overall draft pick who scored 33 points in 48 games, as a rookie. That team should be a no-pressure team with ice time to waste.
Rattie, 24, is a winger with good hands. Unfortunately, in four years Ken Hitchcock kept Rattie on the shelf. In January, the Hurricanes claimed Rattie who added a pair of assists in five games, before Carolina tried to slip him through waivers. The Blues again grabbed him.
The travel and lack of ice clearly had an effect on Rattie, as even his AHL numbers took a steep dive this season.
In 35 NHL games, the Calgary native has 10 points. The Penguins are probably not the team with enough ice to let a struggling winger find himself, but if he’s available on an AHL deal, injuries to the Penguins small wingers could put a lucky player beside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
The chance to play beside Crosby or Malkin is a great selling point for a lot of free agents. The Penguins recent track record of player development (Schultz, Conor Sheary, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust) could also speak to players looking for another chance.
If the free agent market isn’t kind to the Penguins, perhaps a couple of these players could be worth another shot.