Connect with us

Penguins

9 Penguins Defensemen: The Options of Who Stays & Who Plays

Published

on

Olli Maatta: Photo by Greg Thornberry. All Rights Reserved

The Pittsburgh Penguins will soon have nine NHL-quality defensemen on their roster when Justin Schultz is cleared to play after he suffered a fractured leg in the fourth game of the season. Schultz return will occur next week or soon afterward. That’s probably one too many defenseman to carry on the roster which could be a goldmine as the NHL Trade deadline approaches.

So what will Penguins coaches Mike Sullivan and Jacques Martin do with the lineup? What will GM Jim Rutherford do with the surplus? Olli Maatta and Jamie Oleksiak have popped up in genuine trade speculation. The latter more so, lately.

The Penguins will also have salary cap considerations when Schultz is activated off IR. They will be about $227,000 over the cap.

It will be a complicated situation, as Shultz will shuffle the deck and alter the chemistry. For example, Schultz has terrific chemistry with both Jamie Oleksiak and Jack Johnson while Juuso Riikola has played his best games with Olli Maatta.

The Penguins could have a situation in which one their defensemen is a top-four choice–Oleksiak or Johnson–and the other becomes a healthy scratch, as Oleksiak has been since he returned from a concussion on Jan. 4. 

The Easy Route

The Penguins could simply demote Juuso Riikola to the WBS Penguins or hold their breath and send Chad Ruhwedel through waivers. In this scenario, one or both could be sent down to clear the necessary cap space and the roster spot.

Marcus Pettersson and Johnson would remain the third pairing. Oleksiak would sidesaddle Schultz because they have formed a solid pairing and Maatta would be a healthy scratch–because Maatta and Johnson have played together several times and it never went well. Bluntly, Maatta and Johnson formed a dreadful pairing which would necessitate Pettersson remaining in the lineup ahead of Maatta.

Analysis: It’s a near zero percent chance this is the route. The Penguins like Riikola because he’s a fast skating, chippy defenseman whose game is growing as the season progresses. It appears they like Riikola more then Oleksiak, which is somewhat surprising. Also making this scenario implausible is Maatta in the press box. The Penguins feel Maata is a top-four defenseman.

The above could easily play out and the Penguins may only lose Ruhwedel, but from reports, internal conversations and actions, this is DOA.

The Odds Favorite

Trade Jamie Oleksiak.

It appears Oleksiak has slipped down the depth chart since Tom Wilson got the jump and landed a flush right hand which concussed Oleksiak. Like every Penguins defenseman except Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, Oleksiak had an up and down first half. Side changes, pairing changes, inconsistent team play and spotty goaltending made life difficult for the Penguins remaining defensemen to fill Schultz’ role.

Oleksiak, 6-foot-7, 255 pounds and a freight train when he hits, skates well, has a good shot and a full toolbox. However, the abundance of physical talent can be a negative as his game gets too big; he can be lured into trying to do too much. And when his game gets big, it gets too sloppy.

Oleksiak offers teams a big defenseman with a long reach, skating ability and thump. In 36 games this season, Oleksiak has 11 points (4g, 7a) and 97 hits. However, Oleksiak is not one of the Penguins top penalty killers which slides him down the depth chart.

This summer, the big defenseman signed a three-year worth $2.137 million annually, so salary cap considerations should not be an issue. In this scenario, Johnson would play with Schultz and Maatta-Riikola would form a decent third pairing. Pettersson becomes the seventh defenseman.

Analysis: The Oleksiak-Schultz pairing played very well last season. It was so good that it should give the Penguins pause. Oleksiak’s very affordable contract also makes it hard to part with him but it now appears this may be the route the Penguins choose.

Dark Horse

Trade Maatta.

Oleksiak would return to the left side with Schultz. Pettersson and Johnson would be the third pairing. Or perhaps the team would give Riikola a chance to play with Pettersson before making either a consistent healthy scratch.

This situation may become necessary pending the Derick Brassard trade situation. The Penguins may need to clear cap room to make a deal or subsequent deals. While the Oleksiak may be the preferred choice to move, Maatta may be the necessary out.

Maatta has been steady since a slow start to the season. Playing with Riikola has raised his game, too. He will never be an offensive weapon though he has 12 points (1g, 11a) in 47 games. Maatta will always look slower than he is, though he is far from speedy. His patient, cool game could work well with a Western Conference team which isn’t on speed.

Maatta and Riikola are both 24-year-old Finns. The country and language connection undoubtedly help Riikola, too. One month ago, Maatta was the heavy favorite to be moved, but Riikola has changed the situation for everyone.

And those are the primary options. Leave your choices below in the comments section.

Subscribe to PHN+

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.

22 Comments
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
22 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
V
V
2 years ago

What about the obvious parings your missing.

Dumo-Letang
Maatta-Schultz
Pettersson-Johnson

V
V
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

For this year yeah. Riikola as the 7. Maatta-Schultz was really good last year especially the playoffs and it also allows Pettersson-Johnson the easiest minutes. Unless they decide to pull the plug on Johnson but i highly doubt that.

Alex
Alex
2 years ago

Maatta and Schultz have formed an elite pair before and they don’t have a desire to play riikola imo I think he’s just favored over oleksiak I think the move is trade oleksiak or Johnson (Ik Johnson is a long shot) and put
Dumoulin-Letang
Maatta-Schultz
Petterson-Riikola/Johnson
7th Defender is either Riikola or Oleksiak based on who’s traded

Alex
Alex
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Hi think that comes with any new pairing but I think that pair could enable riikola to be more aggressive and confident in the offensive zone as petterson has had good breakout passes

Alex
Alex
2 years ago
Reply to  Alex

And petterson has been a very good stay at home defenseman. Matching him with either Riikola or Schultz reeks of similarities to Dumo-Tanger to me as I think he could benefit either of them positively in allowing them to be aggressive offensive like dumo allows tanger

Alex
Alex
2 years ago
Reply to  Alex

If Maatta-Schultz didn’t work it’d be easy to change to a petterson-Schultz maatta-riikola switch if Johnson were traded. I think Johnson has been good this year but is a lil more expensive than oleksiak and older. He could also fetch a decent return like a 1st, 2nd or 3rd based on how much a team wants a veteran defenseman that seems a similar trade to me like the rob hainsey one for the pens but Johnson has more years which could equate to higher return

Kris Peterinelli
Kris Peterinelli
2 years ago

IMHO
Dumolin – Letang
Pettersson – Schultz
Maata – Rikkola
Johnson 7th man.

Thomas
Thomas
2 years ago

Nuts if you think 4million dollar D will be the 7th, plus jack brings a physical element the penguins need and want. Also, jack will not be traded, at least not this year. Not going to happen nor should they.

Dean
Dean
2 years ago

With Riikola and Pettersson playing so well, it makes the Johnson signing even a bigger disaster for Rutherford. If you can move Johnson, you have too. Teans do crazy things at the trade deadline. Hopefully, Rutherford is smart enough to look beyond this year. The ideal would be to move Maatta (lack of speed) and Johnson and clear 7.33M in space over the next 4 years. And pick-up a top-4 veteran rental (ideally RD) to finish this season. Sign both Riikola and Pettersson to 2-3 deals at $1.5M each, or less. We will need the cap space in the next… Read more »

Alex
Alex
2 years ago
Reply to  Dean

Johnson hasn’t played poorly but with the success of riikola and petterson I definitely think moving him would be a great move. Maatta on the other hand I don’t think you move at all he’s played well and with Schultz coming back you could have three stay at home defenseman (Dumo, Maatta, Petterson) pairing with three mobile, offensively aggressive defenseman (tanger, Schultz, riikola) i think a combo of those six is the best case for the pens

Zane Gearhart
Zane Gearhart (@steelcityhockey)
2 years ago

I’d like to see how Petterson pairs with Schultz before any moves are made. If they can play good together that allows our current 2nd pairing to effectively become the 3rd pairing after Schultz gets back into game shape. Thinking long term Maatta and Johnson should be the odd men out just due to cap space and cost. For the cap hit the others can play as effect for less cost, opening up more room to sign other forwards

Dean
Dean
2 years ago

Dan, if the pens moved a goalie, why wouldn’t it be DeSmith? Jarry has a better opportunity to be a starter in the NHL and DeSmith (with a 3 year inexpensive contract) may have as much short term value as Jarry for a team that need a back-up for a play-off push. I don’t see a big downgrade, if any, for the Pens in the short term with Jarry as Murray’s back-up.

Thomas Roberts
Thomas Roberts
2 years ago
Reply to  Dean

Jarry will not be relied upon as 30s back up. Furthermore jarry will not be eligible to be sent to wbs next year. Likely will be moved. Desmith is the proven guy and is much better than jarry to this point.

Pensfan
Pensfan
2 years ago

I just don’t get how you guys can watch Pettersson and not see he’s by far the weakest link. He’s around -9 in his last 5 games. He gets pushed around by in front of the net. He loses battle after battle. He needs to be in WBS.

Shawn S.LaMotte
Shawn S.LaMotte
2 years ago

Maatta has proven numerous times how terrible his defense and speed are. His offense seems alright, but with Schultz coming back I don’t think the pens need him anymore. His numbers have dipped drastically, has no physical play and gets bossed around in the corners as if his name was Cinderella. Trade him for a 3C and maybe a 3rd pick. Get Brassard out for a d-man in return or package them together and see what you get. Obviously they’re just looking to clear space to help, but if Malkin and Pearson can’t get it going pens might be in… Read more »

Brian Williams
Brian Williams
2 years ago

Ruhwedel, Oleksiak, & Maatta are the weakest links of the defensive corps. Riikola needs a little more time but his speed & grit are evident. Petterson is showing enough to stay.

Billy Rof
Billy Rof
2 years ago

I would trade maatta, he has been a turnover machine his whole career and doesn’t really wow you too much. I would keep Johnson and Oleksiak, because the pens will need to play a heavy game to beat Washington or Boston or some of the big teams in the West. I would also trade Brass for a LW proven scorer and put Sheehan on the third line with 81, they have shown chemistry in the past. So with the trade for that LW proven scorer, my line up would be as follows 59 87 12 New LW 71 72 14… Read more »

Join PHN Extra!

Join PHN+ today for exclusive content from Dan and Shelly plus a completely Google ad-free experience.

PHN+

Or enter your email below to sign-up for our mailing list.

Thank you!

Something went wrong.

No thanks. I don't want.