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Penguins Trade Needs Changing: 5 Middle-Six Wingers to Watch

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NHL Trade, Pittsburgh Penguins, Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev

First, it was a backup goalie or a 1-A goalie to shepherd Tristan Jarry through his maturation process and be a prime insurance policy in the playoffs. Then the Pittsburgh Penguins trade potentials were updated to an experienced backup and a right-side defenseman. While those issues have been debated, GM Ron Hextall may be forced to hit the NHL trade market for more serious needs.

In fact, the Penguins trade board should include a scoring middle-six winger.

Such players are not inexpensive on the NHL trade block unless they have an expensive contract. Perhaps more than anything, the Penguins are short at least one middle-six winger. Casey DeSmith appears to be rebounding from a brutal first half and returning to form as a competent backup, again. Chad Ruhwedel, who signed a new two-year extension on Saturday, has been a steady, quiet presence as the sixth defenseman.

In a salary-cap world, teams can’t have All-Stars in every role. Steady also wins the race.

However, since the return of Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins’ middle has been inconsistent, at best. Evan Rodrigues and Kasperi Kapanen had combined for zero points in the last 10 games until Sunday.

Rodrigues’s 18-game futility ended Sunday with a power-play goal. Kapanen remained scoreless.

Rodrigues raced to 30 points, and the sky appeared to be the limit as he aggressively handled the puck with intent and purpose. He toe-dragged around defensemen and snapped hard wrist shots, as well as dug for pucks along the wall, then pressured opponents for scoring chances.

Such things–many of those things–have been missing for weeks. Coincidentally, or not, his disappearance coincided with Evgeni Malkin’s arrival. Confidence, mindset?

Kasperi Kapanen. Much has been said and written. The maddening halts just across the blue line. The lack of impact. Where have those intense backchecks leading to turnovers gone? Kapanen has had a few runs this season with good statistics. The scoresheet embellished his performance, which wasn’t what the Pittsburgh Penguins hoped or needed.

Head coach Mike Sullivan pushed Kapanen in the offseason and preseason. Optimism abounded. Remember the preseason headline, “Sullivan is Pushing Kapanen, Do the Penguins Have an Emerging Star?” You can read it here.

Jason Zucker had core muscle surgery on Jan. 25 and remains out. There isn’t an official timetable for his return, and he is not yet skating. However, even when healthy, Zucker’s production has paled compared to expectations. He has just 13 points (6-7-13) in 31 games.

All of this means GM Ron Hextall could be forced to spend more than he wants at the NHL trade deadline.

Wingers to Watch on the NHL Trade Market

Money will be a factor for any top-six winger. Some creative solutions will be necessary unless Jason Zucker remains on LTIR for the remainder of the regular season, or the Penguins deal corresponding salary.

Max Domi, C/LW

The Columbus Blue Jackets sent a pair of scouts to the Penguins vs. Toronto game on Thursday. The Penguins have recently scouted the Columbus Blue Jackets. So, there’s a possible connection.

The Penguins need a middle-six winger and Domi is having a fine year with 23 points (9-14-23) in 38 games. He’s a rental because his two-year deal with a $5.3 million AAV expires in July.

Domi is a lefty who can play center or LW. His creative game could be a good fit beside Evgeni Malkin or Jeff Carter. He’s not a gritty player, but he’s not as soft as he once was.

The going rate for such a player is probably a second-round pick, give or take a smidge. If Columbus eats salary, the price could jump to a second-rounder plus a prospect. If multiple teams come calling, the price goes up, too.

Dark horse in Columbus: Jakub Voracek. He’s expensive ($8.25 million AAV), but the 32-year-old winger and Hextall had a long history in Philadelphia. Voracek is piling up assists with 34 points (2-32-34) in 47 games. Perhaps he could feed Big Jeff Carter or Evgeni Malkin?

James van Riemsdyk, LW

We know Hextall likes players that he knows. Mark Friedman. Jeff Carter. Those were his first moves as Pittsburgh Penguins GM and both were players from Hextall’s former tenures with the Philadelphia Flyers and LA Kings.

Hextall signed JVR to a five-year deal in 2018. That Hextall didn’t survive the Philadelphia Flyers power struggle beyond November of that year only underscores that van Riemsdyk was Hextall’s choice.

The gritty 6-foot-3, 217-pound winger can score but he’s seen better days. Philadelphia is in the tank for the second consecutive season and his numbers are free falling. In 49 games, he has only 20 points (11-9-20). Last season, he popped for 43 points (17-26-43) in 56 games.

He can be a power forward and Philadelphia is on the verge of trading Claude Giroux, signaling a rebuild, or at least a retool.

Rivalry is the first compounding issue. Money is the second. van Riemsdyk is in the fourth year of the five-year deal with a $7 million AAV. That will be difficult or next to impossible for the Penguins to fit under their cap. Perhaps this is a good hockey trade potential–the Flyers have a player who is scuffling in Philly, and so do the Penguins (OK, a couple, including Zucker).

van Riemsdyk’s salary and cratered production this season should lessen the price tag. Philadephia might eat salary, too? A big body on Malkin’s LW, who can score?

Brock Boeser, RW

Forget J.T. Miller.

Miller will cost a pretty penny in return. He has 50 points (18-32-50) in just 48 games and is in the fourth year of a bargain five-year deal that carries a $5.25 million AAV.

Such an NHL trade get would surely cost the Penguins pieces they do not want to give up, including and not limited to a first-round pick, a top prospect, and maybe Kasperi Kapanen, too.

Boeser, 24, is on the top Canucks line, but his name is floating about on the NHL trade market. Vancouver needs to make changes and there exists concern in Vancouver about his impact and grittiness. He will be an RFA after this season, but his current salary is $5.875 million.

Rutherford may have to eat salary or take a little less in return if he decides to deal the RW who has 28 points (15-13-28) in 45 games.

Artturi Lehkonen, RW

Lehkonen, 26, has developed a little edge to his game. The winger is playing with sandpaper and some grit in Montreal. He’s currently pulling fourth-line duty, but has the skills to be a solid third-line contributor. Heck, with Evgeni Malkin, he could be a second-line RW? In 46 games with the hapless Canadiens, Lehkonen has a more than respectable 20 points (7-13-20).

The Washington Capitals are already fishing around. Lehkonen will be an RFA with arbitration rights after this season and makes $2.3 million. Make no mistake, he is the sleeper on the NHL trade market. At 6-foot, 176 pounds, he’s not a bruiser, but he has some grit and finishing ability.

Lehkonen’s price tag may be higher than you expect because his salary is affordable. The Penguins could afford him with a couple of demotions.

Jared McCann, C/LW

Last, but certainly not least. Perhaps the most likely candidate: Jared McCann.

The Pittsburgh Penguins know him well. He knows the Penguins well. If not for the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, McCann would likely still be a Penguins forward. The streaky winger-slash-reliable center has become the occasional top-line center for the Kraken and McCann is performing well. He has 32 points, including again hitting 20 goals.

McCann, 25, carries only a $2.95 million AAV. Hextall was seen engaged in extended conversations with Seattle AGM Jason Botterill last week in Boston.

The knock against McCann has been playoff scoring. In 12 playoff games over three series with the Penguins, he has just two assists.

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Wasnt
9 months ago

Id like to see Voracek or JVR with Geno and Carter that would be awesome.
I know everyone seems to think since Geno came back the chemistry is all screwed up honestly I noticed it when Blue broke his jaw. Pens really miss him bad

Fredrick
Fredrick
9 months ago
Reply to  Wasnt

Could you imagine if Hex landed both Voracek and JVR and they became scoring machines next to Malkin? Flyers fans would definitely be upset.

Jay95
Jay95
9 months ago
Reply to  Fredrick

Ok, off he got both of them… I’m for picking up JVR in this case 🤣🤣🤣.

We know that they gel.

Ethan
9 months ago
Reply to  Fredrick

He better be moving a whole lot of salary out the door because that is over 15 million on the books for 2 wingers!

Fredrick
Fredrick
9 months ago
Reply to  Ethan

Hopefully the deal would include salary retained lol.

Jay95
Jay95
9 months ago
Reply to  Wasnt

Blueger Is a HUGE loss to this team. He just does everything…right. I remember back in the day when a certain writer with the initials of RW, on a certain site that should never be named, was in love with Marcel Goc. Blueger is everything that Goc was supposed to be and more.

Mike Donnelly
Mike Donnelly
9 months ago

JVR at $7mil? Thanks but no thanks. That’s Rust’s money he’s stealing.

Jason.C
Jason.C
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Donnelly

You would make a hockey trade to make it work.

Jay95
Jay95
9 months ago
Reply to  Jason.C

JVR just isn’t that good at producing points at even strength. I think that we have a general misconception of his style of play too.

Jason.C
Jason.C
9 months ago
Reply to  Jay95

You need guys to be a pest and screen goalies and can take a beating so your goal scorers can score easier and pens have no guys for that we did and they traded him to Florida

Last edited 9 months ago by JcNorthStar
Ryan
Ryan
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Donnelly

Rust is gone…or somebody else is and the team will never sniff the second round again.

You don’t put $13 of wingers on a line that costs $22 mil annually. They’ll get locked down in the first round (like the last 4 years) and out in 5…

I think sometimes pens fans haven’t watched one second of their playoff games for 15 years…comments lead to that belief.

Last edited 9 months ago by Ryan
Kris
Kris
9 months ago
Reply to  Ryan

Nope didn’t watch any of those 3 Stanley Cup Championship runs in the last 15 years.

Ryan
Ryan
9 months ago
Reply to  Kris

Well watch them again and see how they won. It wasn’t one carrying them. And the “x factor” wasn’t even close to that.

Last edited 9 months ago by Ryan
Jason.C
Jason.C
9 months ago

Great Read Dan! Out of all those guys there are 2 I would like to see the most Artturi Lehkonen and JVR both have some jam and not afraid to go to the front of the net Lekkonen has some speed too while JVR has more jam then speed. I have zero interest in retreads like MCcan no thank you. I think JVR is more likely then MCcan one because JVR is a Hextall guy and MCcan is not. We need different energy from guys not the same ones from the pens past imo. those are the 2 I am… Read more »

Fredrick
Fredrick
9 months ago
Reply to  Jason.C

Both would be great additions. If it only costs players like Kap and Zuck plus maybe picks it would definitely make our middle 6 better.

Jay95
Jay95
9 months ago
Reply to  Fredrick

I looked Lekkonen too. He’s the other one that’s really hard to figure out as far predicting future play. I LOVE his motor, the “jam”, and he can put up ok points. I don’t think that he’s worth either of those players though. Not that he can’t be as effective as a Kapanen, but Kap can bring us back something better.

If the cost were something like a mid range prospect and a 4th…I do it in a heart beat.

Also, a healthy Zucker is most likely more productive than JVR at this point

Pete
Pete
9 months ago
Reply to  Jason.C

McCann has 21 goals. Yeah, we wouldn’t want that.

Fredrick
Fredrick
9 months ago

I was just trying to think of possible options and wrote them under the comment section under another article lol! I think JVR would make sense with his Hextall connection. I wouldn’t mind bringing in a few players. Zucker and Kap haven’t really fit in and I could see Hex trying to move them in some hockey type deals.

Jay95
Jay95
9 months ago
Reply to  Fredrick

If you get a chance go to hockey reference and take a look at JVR’s numbers. At first I thought that he’d be a good fit, but was surprised by what I saw there. His hits and blocked shots, along with his turnover to takeaway ratio, show that he doesn’t seem to play as much of a grinding, responsible, game as I believed. And, while he’s EXCELLENT at driving possession, both raw and relative to his teammates, most of his points the last couple of years have been on the power play. He’s not doing much at even strength. Anyway,… Read more »

Jay95
Jay95
9 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Yeah, as a lifelong hockey player, and also a data analyst, I couldn’t help but look deeper. I feel like there’s more there than just the lack of quality centers though. I may take a look at his most common linemates, but even with an average center, the numbers just don’t add up. Honestly, lacking an eye test, it’s one of the guys numbers are some of the strangest I’ve seen. To be that big, known as a skilled player, drive possession that much, but without a ton of takeaways, hits, or even strength points…it just makes it next to… Read more »

Jason.C
Jason.C
9 months ago
Reply to  Jay95

He is a lot like Hornqvist like a missing ingredient the pens don’t currently have and need he does need to be a goal scorer just create chaos in front of the net and add a touch of scoring imo

Jay95
Jay95
9 months ago
Reply to  Jason.C

While I agree that’s what he needs to be… Does he actually create chaos in front of the net? I’m going to dig more. But, if he does it seems like it’s only on the power play. The Pens don’t really need that at this point. They need depth scoring at 5 on 5.

Jason.C
Jason.C
9 months ago
Reply to  Jay95

Agree good point the only argument I can make to his 5 on 5 play is how much motivation can he have playing on the Flyers the last couple years and not being a very relevant team. Ha

A P
A P
9 months ago

Unlike GMJR, who would set his sights on a big fish and not stop until he got his man, I think Hextall is very methodical and does his research to make sure he finds the right guy who will fit in perfectly.

Personally, I’d love to flip Kapanen for Domi (does CBJ’s Finnish GM have an extra belief in Kapanen?) but it’s more realistic they’ll make one or two moves for role players who could have a nice impact.

Jay95
Jay95
9 months ago
Reply to  A P

Of those players mentioned I feel like Domi would be pretty good for a guy like Kapanen. He’s a much better play maker and his point production over his career is almost ALL at even strength. We have plenty of guys who can finish, so I like that trade. I definitely would push hard for a McCann trade too. If we can move Zucker in the off-season to keep Rust, McCann can jump right in that spot. If we keep Zucker, McCann and Erod (I’m guessing that he’s become more affordable) have both shown that they can play the right… Read more »

Ryan
Ryan
9 months ago
Reply to  Jay95

Plenty of guys that can finish…except for second line wingers every year.

Jay95
Jay95
9 months ago

Personally I really like that Domi’s production has mostly been at even strength throughout his career. McCann would be my first choice though. Boeser would be a nice addition too.
Van Riemsdyk is surprisingly less physical than I thought. And, almost all of his production has been on the power play recently. I’d pass, though he does drive possession. I’m not sure how to feel about Lehkonen. He just doesn’t seem like he’s best fit with the team.

Last edited 9 months ago by Jay95
Frank
Frank
9 months ago

The team has 3 needs and I am not so sure which one is any more important than the other. They could use a solid defenseman; a dependable back up goaltender; and a middle line forward. When you think about it the Penguins do not lack goal scoring middle line forwards. What they lack are middle line goal scoring forwards . . who are scoring. The return of Bleuger will help for sure. If somehow they scotch tape Zucker together and he plays for more than 3 games without injury and is somewhat effective I think they can live with… Read more »

Jay95
Jay95
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank

I feel like the answer is a healthy Zucker. For a guy who needed core surgery he was still moving amazingly. But, I’m sure that it was painful. And, definitely affected his hands. I’d like to add a 1B goalie also.

As far as D goes, I think that they’ll be fine. The depth guys are actually having decent seasons. My biggest concern is the decline of Dumo. He doesn’t look like a top pairing guy this season.

Steve
Steve
9 months ago
Reply to  Jay95

My concern defensively is that they run into a team like Florida in the playoffs or even the Bruins and it turns into a replay of last spring around the net. I like all of the chatter around the forwards. I confess that I would have to really think hard on McCann. He has been a no-show in back to back playoff series. I think at this point you give another player a look to shuffle the mix a la Carter as opposed to a retread a la Sheary part 2.

Jay95
Jay95
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve

To me, the issues with the Bruins and Florida seem to stem from poor puck management, not the ability to battle in front of the net. I mean, the Pens have failed against those teams to body up to a degree, but it’s usually after bad puck management leads to extensive zone time or an odd man break.

Steve
Steve
9 months ago
Reply to  Jay95

Fair points. It is just my impressions based on what I see. I haven’t crunched the data. Teams can win without a Zdeno Chara on the blue line. But the Pens last one with guys like Ian Cole and Ron Hainsey. Not an enforcer, but physical enough. I think this current team is actually pretty physical in the sense of the faster NHL. But I do think they have some issues around the net. Now maybe it’s overblown a bit and if they rediscover their groove, it can improve. We shall see.

Jay95
Jay95
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve

I think at this moment it’s more of a just wait and see over the next month. I do believe that these D men are more than capable…but they do have to execute better.

Jer5051
Jer5051
9 months ago

Any thoughts on Namestakov? Has been scoring and could be a cheep pickup.

Jason.C
Jason.C
9 months ago
Reply to  Jer5051

I was hoping that the last couple years the pens would go for him, I think Namestakov would be a solid fit maybe this year? I have liked him since his days in Tampa Bay fast skilled little bit gritty I think he would fit any where lines 2-4.

Ryan
Ryan
9 months ago

Kapanen has to go…zucker to follow in the summer. They are both EXACTLY what they were identified as in their last markets: double the price for their impacts.

But good god…max domi? Jared McCann???
Any pens article not rehashing names? Why don’t we toss Brandon saad in?

Rob
Rob
9 months ago

This is all moot. unless Hextall salary dumps a few of the bad contracts to arizona or something first, there’s zero chance of any trades happening. I say this because no gm in their right mind would trade good players to the penguins in order to receive any of the players the penguins would be willing to give up. My guess is no trades are made and Hextall goes with who they have. also, Hextall has shown since he arrived that he holds on to draft picks. As well he should

Last edited 9 months ago by Robert Shoemaker
Jay95
Jay95
9 months ago
Reply to  Rob

I believe that Kapanen still has plenty of value with his cap hit and dynamic abilities. And, I believe that Hextall would moved him after seeing him play every day now. I’d also think that this is where the McCann trade could make sense. Rutherford loves him Kapi.

Kris
Kris
9 months ago

it’s nice every once in a while to read some fantasy nonsense. Thanks for posting this completely over the top, ain’t never going to happen prose.

Pete
Pete
9 months ago

Jared McCann has 21 goals and speed and a rocket shot. Sure am glad we gave him to Toronto for a bag of pucks so TOR lost no one in the expansion draft and we lost two. Dumbest move Hex has made (so far).

Ryan
Ryan
9 months ago
Reply to  Pete

He didn’t work in Pittsburgh. What has changed?

Guest
Guest
9 months ago

McCann would not still be playing for the Penguins, he was traded to the Maple Leafs

Pete
Pete
9 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Yeah. I’m sure Hallender and that 7th rounder will be scoring 20+ goals inthe NHL any day now. Stupid trade.

Paul
Paul
9 months ago

Boeser is the best natural goal-scorer of the bunch. Plus, he would give the front office a Plan B if Rust can’t be re-signed. Would fit nicely with Malkin or Crosby.

Last edited 9 months ago by Paul