It was nice to go to the rink for a few days. The Pittsburgh Penguins development camp wrapped on Thursday as 2022 first-rounder Owen Pickering teased Luke Devlin about his terrible QB play in the flag football game. The Penguins cast off a handful of RFA prospects, including Jordy Bellerive and Cam Lee, then signed Evgeni Malkin to a four-year deal and Jan Rutta to a three-year deal.
GM Ron Hextall is reshaping the organization from the bottom, and the Penguins’ prospects looked better than previous “rookie camps.”
**RFA’s not signed: Danton Heinen, Justin Almeida, Jordy Bellerive, Jan Drozg, Niclas Almari, Cam Lee, Will Reilly, and goalie Alex D’Orio.
Bellerive was a Cinderella story after his first rookie camp nearly five years ago. However, a campfire accident in 2018 set his career back by a couple of years. He was an undrafted free agent from the Lethbridge Hurricanes who earned his way into the Penguins organization, but he just didn’t have the stuff to get to the show. Cam Lee was another “hopeful” free agent who didn’t pan out.
At least Alex D’Orio got to dress for a few playoff games?
**Players signed: Evgeni Malkin (four years, $24.4 million). Maxime Oullette. Dustin Tokarski. Jan Rutta (three years, $2.75 million AAV). Josh Archibald (one year, $900,000). Drake Caggiula (two-way), $750,000.
Why did Malkin sign? What changed on Tuesday, about 12 hours before free agency, that shoved the seemingly tense negotiations headed to free agency into a contract?
“I don’t really know, to be honest,” deadpanned Hextall. “That’s more a question for Geno.”
We all laughed when Hextall said he didn’t know, including the Penguins PR staff, but Hextall wasn’t joking. That’s a story I’d love to hear. Did Malkin have a change of heart? Did he get a late-night call from a teammate? A come-to-Jesus call from his agent? Or was the prospect of putting on another sweater just that revolting?
The Rutta signing was astute. You can’t pass up a defenseman like that, especially at that price. He’ll make the Pittsburgh Penguins better despite forcing Hextall to dump another defenseman.
**Penguins Development Camp
Dave Molinari had a little story about Owen Pickering and his articulate nature. Penguins’ sixth-rounder Luke Devlin will have a long media career if his hockey career doesn’t pan out. He naturally joined a convo I was having with Lukas Svejkovsky (I guess he was bored!), and he sensed Pickering was chirping his quarterback play in the prospects’ flag football game.
“Devlin was one of the quartebacks. He wasn’t very good. His field vision was lacking,” Pickering said when we asked who lined up at QB.
Devlin was having none of the Monday morning quarterbacking. The fun starts at about 1:40.
2020 second-round pick Joel Blomqvist drew raves from the new director of player development Tom Kostopoulos.
“You guys should get used to talking to him,” said Kostopoulos.
The Finnish goalie went with new all-black pads for camp. They looked pretty good, but I’m not sure he caught my Darth Vader reference. The pads were reminiscent of Emil Larmi’s all-black kit. Blomqvist figures to have more success in the Penguins org than did.
On Sunday, J.D. Forrest was non-committal about Blomqvist’s immediate future. He could play in the AHL, or the Penguins could loan him to his Finnish team.
Perhaps they will see how Filip Lindberg is progressing from his serious ankle injury and decide. The Pittsburgh Penguins goaltending depth is suddenly pretty good. Tokarski will be one netminder.
The guess is that Blomqvist will return to Finland if Lindberg is healthy. Tommy Nappier will go to Wheeling but serve as the third goalie in WBS. But that’s only a guess.
Danton Heinen and Evan Rodrigues are still unsigned. Dave Molinari looked at Penguins UFAs and why they might be unsigned.
Heinen is a nice scoring option on a deep team. His game doesn’t have enough edge to be a sought-after middle-six winger. However, 18 goals are 18 goals. A team looking to add a few more goals and a bit of depth will come calling.
Rodrigues is interesting to me. From these eyes, it looked like when Rodrigues felt he was needed, his game hit impressive levels. When he didn’t feel needed, he melted into the background.
I would suggest a rebuilding, or tearing down team, which is trying to be more competitive and has roster spots available, take a good look at him. Or a team that is trying to find cheap offense with a third-line center.