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Penguins Q&A: UFAs to Help, Crosby Contract, Following Panthers’ Blueprint

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Alex Nedeljkovic. Stanley Cup playoffs await

The summer of Stanley in South Florida will begin soon. The Florida Panthers won the Stanley Cup Monday, and they got there in a way the Pittsburgh Penguins could have emulated and may again be able to replicate regardless of whether they hit on a few prospects at the coming 2024 NHL Draft. It’s going to be a wild week with more decisions crammed into a short moment than a defenseman trying to defend Connor McDavid on the rush.

From Penguins trade chips to top prospects, this week’s Penguins Q&A in print form is a little narrow. I think many of you have two questions now: Who will the Penguins trade, and who will the Penguins sign?

I know many of you check in and check out through the summer. It’s OK. It doesn’t hurt my feelings too much, but here is the build-out of how general manager Bill Zito constructed Florida, not through the draft and homegrown products:

Read more: How Penguins Can Follow Panthers’ Rebuild; Different than Dubas’s Path.

The draft has rightfully taken a back seat because the Penguins don’t have a first-round pick. There are probably 20 players worthy of the Penguins’ two spots in the middle of the second round, and my guess is the amateur scouts have only circled half of them. The second round is usually a battle of “Who?!”

We’ll have more this week.

Penguins Q&A

Thanks, Ken. This is an intriguing question because it cuts to perception and reality. Fans go all-in or all-out on players, but there is a great middle. Marcus Pettersson is, indeed, the Penguins’ most reliable defenseman who had his first complete season. He’s had great starts and solid half-seasons but never before finished it with the same level of performance until this season.

He’s a middle-class defenseman. He’s solid. Dependable. Reliable. He’s a Honda Civic, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Can the Penguins improve upon him? Yes. Would they get worse if they traded him without an adequate replacement in return or via free agency? Yes. The Penguins need P.O Joseph to ascend into part of that role and Ryan Graves to rebound from a bottoming-out season.

Sidenote: Joseph is an RFA with arbitration rights. The Penguins have not yet announced a qualifying offer, which is due June 30.

Trading Pettersson wouldn’t cripple the blue line, but not replacing him would. Remember, Kris Letang and Erik Karlsson run the Penguins blue line. The Penguins don’t need anything special, just reliability, on a pairing with both of those defensemen.

I’ll be doing the Penguins’ Top 10 prospect list after the draft. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, and I need to see some tape on Cruz Lucius, whom they acquired in the Jake Guentzel trade (but he transferred from Wisconsin to Arizona State?! Not a good move if he’s an NHL prospect).

Joel Blomqvist is the top prospect because he’s both the closest to the show and perhaps going to have the biggest impact if/when he does. When I visited Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in January, Jack St. Ivany tossed opponents away from the crease and called Blomqvist “our best player” and “our heart and soul.”

Blomqvist played well enough to put himself on the doorstep of an NHL job, though he flubbed the final audition in the AHL playoffs.

No. 2 is clearly Brayden Yager, but there is a drop to the rest. I know fans salivate over Ville Koivunen’s Finnish statistics, but–and this is why you should follow our coverage daily–our in-person scouting of Koivunen showed a player with several things to improve, including speeding up his pace of play before he gets to the NHL. Click here for the PHN+ scouting report.

Until September and the rookie tournament (assuming they participate), I believe PHN will have the only in-person scouting of several Penguins prospects, including Koivunen and Tristan Broz.

2022 first-round pick Owen Pickering is a bit of a mystery to me because he’s still physically maturing. Broz is going to be a sleeper and play in the NHL faster than many of you realize (his name is pronounced Broes), and do we count Jonathan Gruden as a prospect? He’s 24.

To be clear, I’m guessing, not reporting. I’ll bet three years, $10.87 million per season. Crosby has given the franchise everything possible, including a long-term contract at a discount. Realize that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane made millions more than Crosby, at least on the ice, and many players who are not Crosby’s equal have much healthier salaries.

Crosby should be able to fill in the contract with the terms of his choosing.

There’s a lot to unpack there, Michael. So, let’s pick away at some of it. Monahan is a poor man’s second-line center. He’s not a great skater. Would he fit with the Penguins? I like the player. I’m skeptical he fits with Pittsburgh unless they acquired him to be an offensive-minded third-line center. Still, he’s going to command a nice paycheck that probably outpaces the cost/benefit for that role.

Yakov Trenin? A fourth-line pugilist with some playmaking skills, but the Penguins’ fourth line is full. I don’t foresee Dubas spending $2 million on a fourth-liner unless that player can replace Jeff Carter’s faceoff role or Dubas decides that the goons in the Metro Division need a target. The Penguins haven’t buckled to that trend yet.

Duclair is going to be overpaid, and I wonder where a small, playing-making winger like Teuvo Teravainen would fit with the Penguins. I suppose if he’s a Jake Guentzel replacement at a much lower cap hit, I’d be on board.

I do not see Dubas throwing his wallet at a defenseman—not this summer, anyway. Brady Skjei would be a great fit, but the 30-year-old is going to cost big money and be long-term. I don’t get the impression Dubas wants to ink 29 and 30-year-olds to six or seven-year contracts.

And finally…

Drew O’Connor-Lars Eller-Stefan Noesen

There aren’t many RW free-agent options, so the right-wing may fall to Valtteri Puustinen by default. Puustinen will need to be much more consistent and bring his complete game.

A name to watch is Stefan Noesen. He had a cup of coffee with the Penguins before jumpstarting his NHL career. He plays a hard, gritty game down low–exactly where the Penguins are headed.

Noesen, 31, had 37 points, scoring 14 goals in 82 games last season.