We don’t yet have a good idea what the Seattle Kraken will do to, for, or with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night. If the Penguins know, they’re doing a good job of keeping quiet, too. We’ve heard multiple takes from different parts of the organization, making the next two days all the more intriguing.
It’s PHN’s growing opinion that Marcus Pettersson is a strong candidate. Given the paper-thin crop of available defensemen, Pettersson’s age and skill set make him one of the six best d-men in the draft. That’s both good and bad news for the Penguins.
Actually, it could be a lot of good.
Monetarily, the Penguins would clear $4.025 million from their salary cap. That’s a significant chunk, especially considering the replacement costs.
The Penguins would have every reason to use their in-house talent to replace Pettersson on the left side of the third pairing. Talented rookie and greenhorn, P.O. Joseph, is marinating in the AHL and Mark Friedman pushed for more ice time before his former team roughed him up.
It may be the ideal situation for the Penguins.
We saw the very best of Joseph, 21, when both top Penguins defensemen Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin were out of the lineup in late January. Joseph and his temporary defense partner John Marino were spectacular. In one specific game against the New York Rangers, Joseph played almost 26 minutes. Marino over 30.
Joseph assisted on the game-winner in the Penguins’ 5-4 OT win on Jan. 30. After two games of heavy minutes against the New York Rangers, he ripped his first NHL goal against the New York Islanders on Feb. 6.
Those few games also marked the turning point of a rough season for Marino, too, but I digress.
There were significant knocks on Joseph when the Arizona Coyotes selected him later in the 2017 first round (23rd overall) and as he turned pro two seasons ago. Some scouts just absolutely did not like his game.
Current Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach and then head coach of the WBS Penguins Mike Vellucci set the record straight. Vellucci roared praise for Joseph in 2019-20. Roared it.
In May 2020, Vellucci chatted exclusively with PHN about Joseph, who had just completed his first professional season with the WBS Penguins.
“He’s outstanding…he played 27 minutes a game. All tough situations,” Vellucci’s praise began. “He got better and better every day. I’m very impressed.”
And then Pittsburgh Penguins fans got to see it first hand in February of 2021. Joseph isn’t a good skater. He’s a great skater. He’s got good vision and a knack in the offensive zone. Actually, he’s a bit like Mike Matheson.
Not only is he quick on his skates, but he’s also quick with the puck and able to lead the rush.
Joseph would cost the Penguins only $863,333 against the salary cap, according to PuckPedia.com.
The downside to Joseph is his inexperience, and he may not be quite ready for the NHL grind. After his initial adrenaline-fueled couple of weeks, he regressed and had some issues. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan reduced Joseph’s workload, and the team eventually sent him back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
So, if all of the Penguins’ eggs to replace Pettersson were in Joseph’s basket, that may be a problem. However, the Penguins have the perfect solution.
Friedman was a depth defenseman in the Philadelphia Flyers system until new Penguins GM Ron Hextall rescued him off the waiver wire on Feb. 24.
Friedman is a right-handed defenseman who is comfortable on his off-hand. Most defensemen claim it’s no big deal, but it clearly is. NHL coaches strive to keep a left-right balance because the NHL game is too quick for defensemen to fumble from their backhand to forehand to move the puck.
Friedman, 25, is one of the exceptions. He couldn’t crack the Flyers lineup and was even used as a forward in a pinch.
However, he, too, burst into the Penguins lineup when given a chance.
With no small irony, Friedman’s first two games were against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 2 and 4. After his new teammates made sure there were no friends on the ice, the Penguins feisty defenseman was treated rather rudely by his old teammates.
Friedman was involved in a few skirmishes. On March 2, Friedman notched one assist. Then on March 4, Friedman set in motion a wild game against Philadelphia with hard-nosed play. First, Friedman scored his first goal as a Penguin. He was apparently uninjured when Nolan Patrick boarded him a few minutes later, but Friedman was then injured when he tried to deliver a hard check at center ice but got the worst of the collision.
Friedman returned to play three games at the end of the regular season on May 3, 4, and 6, including another physical game against the Flyers.
During the May 4 (be with you) game, Friedman fought Joel Farabee, and Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was suspended for two games for a late hit on Friedman.
Yes, Friedman is a feisty defenseman who brought out the worst in opponents. He’s a battler, a scrapper, and a defenseman who showed he, too, can join the rush. And finish.
Friedman, 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, is not an imposing defenseman, but he brings some sandpaper to the job.
And that’s what gives the Pittsburgh Penguins the perfect plan to replace Pettersson if Seattle snags him or if the Penguins use Pettersson as a trade chip. Friedman is capable of limited minutes on a nightly basis, and Joseph could be a genuine player in the NHL, but he will have more growing pains.
As Joseph ebbs, Friedman can flow. And vice versa. And, if neither is ready for the bright lights, Hextall has a full season to explore the NHL trade market.
We didn’t even mention the nearly forgotten and buried Juusso Riikola, who has toiled in practice and the occasional game for nearly three years.
The Penguins are well-positioned.