When he was hired as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ general manager, Ron Hextall bristled at the notion that he was a conservative GM who exclusively built through the draft.
“I’m not a one-trick pony,” he said when he was hired.
The Penguins’ personnel combinations certainly got a shuffle on Saturday, when Hextall retooled his defense corps. Out went Mike Matheson and John Marino. In came a few million dollars of salary-cap space, Montreal Canadiens d-man Jeff Petry, forward Ryan Poehling, and Ty Smith, a blue-chip prospect/reclamation project from New Jersey. The Penguins also picked up New Jersey’s third-round pick, which should be much better than the fourth-rounder they parted with in the Petry trade.
After those moves and the 11th-hour signing of Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins’ lines are taking shape.
Jake Guentzel–Sidney Crosby–Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker–Evgeni Malkin–Rickard Rakell
Brock McGinn–Jeff Carter–Kasperi Kapanen
Josh Archibald–Teddy Blueger–Drew O’Connor
13th: Ryan Poehling
Aside from Teddy Blueger, the Penguins’ fourth line could take several shapes. Marco D’Amico from Montreal Hockey Now told us that Poehling is “a center or bust.”
Perhaps Poehling edges Archibald or O’Connor for a lineup spot. He certainly has the talent. We think Archibald sticks somewhere in the lineup because of his PK skills. Right now, the Penguins’ PK would include Jeff Carter as a primary penalty-killer, which is not ideal for a 37-year-old offensive-minded pivot.
PK: Archibald, Blueger, McGinn, O’Connor (?)
O’Connor was working on penalty-killing. We’ll see if he’s able to handle it at the NHL level. Poehling spent less than 20 minutes shorthanded last season, so he’s not a penalty-killer by nature, either.
Pittsburgh Penguins Defensemen:
Now, here’s where it is interesting. Hextall said the Penguins would not carry nine defensemen next season. However, he traded two, but acquired two on Saturday. The only out is that Ty Smith, 22, can be sent to the AHL without passing through waivers.
Brian Dumoulin–Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson–Jeff Petry
P.O Joseph–Jan Rutta
7th & 8th: Friedman, Ruhwedel
Inserting opinion, Friedman is probably the better option on the third pairing, but at some point, Joseph has to get his chance. October and November hockey is the perfect time to let the rookie learn.
Joseph may become the best option, or Friedman could land the role by default.
The wild card is Smith. If he finds his 2020-21 rookie form, when he had 23 points (2-21-23) in 48 games and received praise from all corners, he might be the best option for the third pairing.
Smith is good on his skates. He also has vision and hands. Smith was the 17th overall pick in 2018, but if he doesn’t win the job in camp, he’s ticketed for the WBS Penguins. Otherwise, the Penguins will lose whoever they try to slip through waivers.
The depth is a strength. but probably won’t make a couple of players very happy.
If Hextall can’t move Pettersson, Ruhwedel is going to get a lot of press-box nachos. Ruhwedel is a solid and capable defender who has an NHL contract. However, having him spend months as a healthy scratch isn’t in the Penguins’ best interest, either. Since Friedman is right-handed and can play both sides, the Pittsburgh Penguins may find Ruhwedel is a trade chip to fill out another small need.
In the playoffs, Sullivan occasionally dropped Pettersson to the third pair. If Joseph adapts well, he could take that second-pairing role with Petry. It would be a mobile combo with some offensive skill.