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Penguins Free Agent Possibles: 3 Options for Offense or Physicality

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Pittsburgh Penguins free agent targets. Jonathan Drouin

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a chance to veer off course, and that’s not a bad thing.

With about $10 million in salary cap space, the Penguins also have a chance to re-fortify their skill in the top six, perhaps finding competent filler for the hole left by the Jake Guentzel trade. Or, Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas could take an entirely different approach, reshaping the Penguins’ identity.

Dubas could double down on his acquisition of Michael Bunting in the Guentzel trade, adding more grit and jam in the lineup.

He could, but here’s the problem: Very limited options in all directions. There are only a few physical players set to hit the free-agent market. It’s easy to say, “Be more physical. Get tougher.” However, such a tact might very well prove impossible.

For example, Warren Foegele will be due a new contract after the Edmonton Oilers’ Stanley Cup Final run, but he never before scored more than 30 points in his five previous seasons.

Yet if the Penguins go for scoring, perhaps a top-line left wing to replace the departed Guentzel, there are only NINE wingers–right or left–who scored at least 19 goals last season. There are few scorers and even fewer bangers available; otherwise, it is slim pickings, and several more on the shortlists are prime candidates to be well-paid.

That will be a separate list and that’s why the July 1 free agent frenzy is the cause of so many GMs’ mistakes.

July 1 is just 23 days away, but with the Stanely Cup Final and NHL Draft still in the way, it might seem like a summer away, but the great reveal is barreling down on the Penguins. Given the Dubas regime’s lockdown secrecy and lack of public conversation, even many industry insiders are left to ponder where the Penguins will go next.

One player not listed below is former Penguins winger Jason Zucker, whom we’ve written about and discussed on the Penguins Live Chats a few times. He remains a player to watch as both a good fit and an affordable fit.

3 Penguins Free Agent Potential to Watch

Jonathan Drouin

If there is a player on the market who could come close to filling Guentzel’s shoes, it might be Drouin. However, the slick playmaking winger has not yet fully maximized his talent over his 10-year career. After overcoming personal issues, he had a solid season with the Colorado Avalanche and friend Nathan MacKinnon, scoring 18 goals and setting career highs with 37 assists and 56 points.

Drouin, 29, is projected to sign a new deal in the $5 million neighborhood with a four-year term.

He would be the right kind of high hockey IQ playmaker to take the Penguins’ top-line LW slot beside Sidney Crosby. Since Drouin is tight with Nathan MacKinnon, there’s a good chance he will re-sign in Colorado. Agent Allan Walsh met with Colorado GM Steve MacFarland this week to work toward a new deal.

As of Friday, there’s nothing on paper.

His defensive work also earned recognition. Drouin would represent a continuation of the Penguins’ skill and talent, but at a bargain, leaving more money for other needs.

Dakota Joshua

The one banger who could genuinely play third-line minutes and not cost well more than he’s worth.

He could change the face of the Penguins’ middle six. His physicality in the Vancouver Canucks’ Round One battle against Edmonton helped Vancouver push the series to seven games. His crunching forechecks had Edmonton defensemen looking over their shoulders.

Joshua, 28, has been a late bloomer and is not a top-six winger, but he could provide a pounding element with some offense that has been lacking for a long, long time.

There are a couple of Penguins connections to vouch for Vancouver’s freight train forward. He had a breakout season under Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet, a former Penguins assistant, scoring 18 goals with 32 points. And Joshua’s brother, Jagger Joshua, is on a minor-league contract with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

The (un)skinny on Joshua is he’s 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, and whose forecheck can pulverize defensemen. 2023-34 was Joshua’s second full-time NHL season. After a couple of seasons up and down with the St. Louis Blues, he spent the last two seasons as a regular in the Vancouver lineup.

Last season was mostly about physicality. Joshua had 23 points with a minus-16 rating but 222 hits. This season, he buttressed the 18 goals with 245 hits.

AFP Analytics projects him to sign a four-year contract worth $3.2 million per year.

Vladimir Tarasenko

He’s not a LW, but Penguins winger Rickard Rakell could be. With a quick flip from the left to the right, the Penguins would have space for the 32-year-old Russian winger, who notched 55 points with 23 goals in 76 games split between the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers.

Tarasenko is projected in the $4 million range, which makes him affordable. His experience makes him trustworthy, as he’s been a valued contributor on the New York Rangers and now Florida Panthers playoff runs. He knows how to play both ends of the ice and can finish chances.

Perhaps the Penguins have a center who’d like a Russian winger?

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Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
8 days ago

My offseason wish list is Joshua, Stephenson or Duchesne, and a backup goaltender. Maybe more if Kyle can swing a trade to free up cap space. Would also like another lhd, but unless Graves can go away, i don’t see the cap space being available.

Matt
Matt
8 days ago

I watched Joshua play at Ohio State. He’s put on some size since then. He’s also improved. Isn’t his brother in the Penguins system?

Steve
Steve
8 days ago
Reply to  Matt

Yes. His brother just finished his first pro season in WBS, I believe. He plays a similar game, but is raw.

Sam
Sam
8 days ago

Joshua is the only one worth going after. Pens desperately need a couple of bangers a la DOC. They punish the opposition, have to be accounted for while on the ice, and they separate puck from the puck carrier. Plus he has some skill. Well worth the projected price.

Pete
Pete
8 days ago

I like all three of these guys.
Don’t need to see Zucker again although the salute was cool!
Keep Sully, keep losing!

Dan N
Dan N
8 days ago

I would like to see Ekman Larsson…could really solidify the defense…Foegele would be okay

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
8 days ago

I like Joshua and Stephenson and a goalie.

Don
Don
8 days ago

Love to see Joshua but Sullivan hates these types of players. I honestly expect a Sullivan clone 5’10” 180lb or so forward that skates fast.

mark fields
mark fields
7 days ago

When you look at the list of players that are out there, its crazy that dubas says he wants the team to win but then doesn’t want to have the best options for the team…a la Guentzel. He is clearly the best option out there, likely would take less to be here, has chemistry and bond with Crosby. And yet you won’t pursue him for what reason who knows….if it is to get younger…well then you are saying we will take a chance with maybe trying to win and get younger…because the best option to win you pass on….shake my… Read more »

Steve
Steve
7 days ago
Reply to  mark fields

Why do you think he would take less to play here? Carolina is shopping his rights because he won’t sign there. He seemed genuinely happy there, and he seemed sour at the way Dubas handled his contract/trade. I don’t see Jake doing Dubas any favors, and I don’t think Dubas has interest in bringing Jake back.

mark fields
mark fields
7 days ago
Reply to  Steve

Well Dubas burned that bridge.. I don’t know if he would take less now…but if he were to take less anywhere it would be here I would imagine. I think before he burned the bridge…how he handled the situation through the whole year…he would have taken less. But now, I won’t be surprised to get full value…the same thing happened with Hyman in Toronto. The best option available for Toronto was Hyman, he thought he can do better….Bunting was his replacement in Toronto, he didn’t do better, and Hyman has produced significantly better. Bunting is not in Toronto, neither is… Read more »

mark fields
mark fields
7 days ago
Reply to  Steve

I agree he may not do any favours today, although if he was to do favours for anyone I think it would be the Penguins. I think Dubas didn’t do any favours for the hopes of Penguins winning when he didn’t handle the situation well over the year to leave a bad taste in Guentzels mouth. He is the best option out there if you want to win. So I’m not sure how you say you want to win but then don’t go after the best available, especially when it doesn’t cost your team anything except money

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
7 days ago
Reply to  mark fields

This is Jakes chance for a long term, big money contract. The penguins signing him to a long term contract would be absurd, given they are going to rebuild when crosby is done and maybe sooner. It was the whole reason that he was traded.

mark fields
mark fields
7 days ago

Yes it is….I think he should go for it. Although I think he could’ve gotten the term with more money but less money than he may get on the market if he was signed earlier in the year here. As for rebuilding…you always need players, even during a rebuild. Teams don’t rebuild just with a collection of 22 year olds. They still have vets, they still have quality players. So you would have had guentzel for 3 or 4 more years while doing a ‘true rebuild’ although Dubas has never said that is his intention.But do a soft rebuild like… Read more »

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
7 days ago
Reply to  mark fields

Guentzel would also have to agree to play here during that period as well. He liked it here, and in Carolina, yet he is still going to look elsewhere. I think the contract Guentzel is looking for wasn’t with Pittsburgh. This leads me to believe that not signing Guentzel to a contract wasn’t on Kyle, but it was the fact that Guentzel WANTED to be a free agent for the first time in his career. I wasn’t part of any negotiations, none of us were, this is All speculation, but clearly Jake wants to move on and explore options, that’s… Read more »

Last edited 7 days ago by Robert Shoemaker
Knobman
Knobman
7 days ago

Those AFP projections for Drouin and Joshua are just silly. Always thought Drouin was highly overrated. I like Trenin as the fourth-line center or LW. Duclair at third RW. Teuvo or Stephenson as first LW and Stephenson can center any line when injuries occur. Domi and Debrusk play a prickly game and would be possibilities.

Brandon
Brandon
6 days ago

I heard Jake Guentzel is pretty good.. He would be a great Penguin eh… I wonder how he and Sid would play together? Lmqo