The Pittsburgh Penguins have a way of refreshing or rejuvenating players’ careers. Just ask, for example, Trevor Daley or Justin Schultz. Forward Jeff Carter’s career wasn’t necessarily sliding, but spending time with the Penguins certainly hasn’t blunted his desire to continue playing.
“I hope to stick around for a few more years,” Carter said Wednesday.
Could that be with the Penguins beyond this season? Who knows? Carter, 37, who has a cap hit of a little more than $2.6 million, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. But talk that at times connected him with retirement over the past several months now seems premature.
Carter, who took a maintenance day Wednesday and so did not practice with the Penguins in Los Angeles at his old stomping grounds at Crypto.com Arena (formerly Staples Center), joined his fourth team when he landed with the Penguins via trade.
He spent nearly a decade with the Kings and won two Stanley Cups while in Los Angeles before being acquired by the Penguins last April for two draft picks. Thursday will be his first game against the Kings since then.
“Winning (the Cup) twice here, pretty special moments,” Carter said. “And then just the friendships. I have so many friends over there still that I keep in touch with daily. It’s a lot of fun to be back, and I’m sure it will feel a little weird come game time, but I’m looking forward to it.”
He said the trade was difficult for him because “I wanted to finish my career” with LA, but he understood the business of it — and now he’s happy with the Penguins.
“I think the trade’s worked out great for me.” he said. “I feel like it’s given me another boost in my career and probably prolonged it a few more years, hopefully.”
He said it was “a real easy group to come into, a great group of guys, a fun system to play, a real upbeat system. It makes you play on your toes and play fast all the time. Just great players. I’ve been put in positions where it’s made it easy for me to go out and play. I’ve just really enjoyed my time here.”
Carter was a first-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2003. He has 410 goals, 782 points in 1,123 NHL games. At 6 feet 3, 219 pounds and with what can sometimes be described as a serious game face, Carter has a noticeable presence.
“I think he’s definitely got a lot left in the tank,” Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson said. “He’s a specimen. … I was training with him a little bit at the end of the summer and the strength that he has, the endurance, it’s incredible.”
Matheson added that Carter also contributes in other ways. “Off the ice, it’s obvious with his presence and the amount of years he’s been in the league, he’s obviously learned a lot and has that composure and confidence that a veteran like him brings.”
Primarily a center, Carter showed his versatility Tuesday night at Anaheim when he moved to the right wing on the second line as center Evgeni Malkin returned from offseason knee surgery, with Kasperi Kapanen on the left. Carter scored twice in the 4-1 win,
The second of those goals — which gave him 11 goals in 29 games this season — was an empty-netter, but his first, which was the first in the game, showed his veteran vision. Defenseman Marcus Pettersson pinched in and forced a turnover by Anaheim’s Troy Terry in the left circle. Before seemingly anyone else, including Ducks goaltender Anthony Stolarz, could react, Carter swooped in and got off a quick shot.
Carter also helped ease Malkin, who scored twice, back into the groove by taking most of that line’s faceoffs and assuming some of the defensive responsibilities that normally fall on the center.
“He can do it all,” Matheson said.
Drew O’Connor, just recalled from the AHL, took that right wing spot at practice Wednesday. It’s unclear whether Carter will play there Thursday or perhaps he might move to third-line center, which would seem to be his projected spot once Malkin gets acclimated.