As the final few healthy unrestricted free agents wait for legitimate offers or situations to their liking, the reality for the remainder of free agents must be setting in. A few who didn’t expect to be in this position when NHL free agency began on July 1 will have to accept professional tryout agreements rather than wait for a guaranteed contract, and therein lies some opportunity for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins’ roster is full, and so is their veteran quota with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, but that doesn’t mean everyone who has signed should be guaranteed a spot. A few players could conceivably make the Penguins’ roster or shove aside existing players in the organization.
The situation should be especially attractive to right-side defensemen. The Penguins should be looking for RHDs to challenge Chad Ruhwedel or provide organizational depth. After trading Jeff Petry and Jan Rutta in the Erik Karlsson deal, the Penguins’ blue-line depth is a bit thin, especially on the right.
Last month, Dave Molinari looked at a few possibilities, too. His list included Zach Aston-Reese, Colin White, and Devin Shore. We’re not going to argue with any of those, but the acquisition of Rem Pitlick from Montreal in the Karlsson deal creates a little bit of a forwards logjam that may be less attractive to the players.
The view here is that White should get an NHL contract, but time is short.
The 31-year-old right-handed defenseman missed last season after signing an $850,000 deal with the Detroit Red Wings. Just a week after signing, Pysyk suffered an Achilles injury which required surgery. He suffered a setback before his expected January return and didn’t play a game for Detroit.
Teams are understandably timid about signing a defenseman whose career has been spent on the periphery, always a sixth defenseman.
Pysyk moves the puck well and provides steady and reliable, if unremarkable, play. He’s also 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. If he can return to 100%, he’s probably the Penguins’ best option for the third-pair RHD.
Our colleagues at Detroit Hockey Now did a solid write-up on the lost season of Mark Pysyk.
Koekkoek, 29, also missed last season, but not due to a physical injury. Koekkoek stepped away from hockey to deal with “unbearable” anxiety. He detailed the problem to Sportsnet last March.
The lefty defenseman, who can play either side, told that Canadian outlet that the situation deteriorated and he could not eat the night before, or the day of, a game. His weight and performance dropped, triggering a vicious cycle.
He’s played just 79 games over the last four seasons, but is a high-performance skater who could bring speed to the blue line. He’s also got some size at 6-foot-2, 193 pounds. Perhaps the time away from the game will be the catalyst for a strong second act in his career if he wants to resume.
He’s not made a formal announcement either way.
“Be kind to one another because you never know what someone might be going through,” Koekkoek told Sportsnet. “And stop commenting on people’s weight … it’s friggin’ weird.”
Koekkek has played in 186 NHL games with 34 points, including eight goals, since making his debut in 2014-15 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He hasn’t necessarily put it all together yet, but with his speed and the Penguins’ pursuit of it, this could be the no-risk proposition both sides are looking for.
Penguins fans plotted his acquisition about three dozen times between his hesitant debut with the Edmonton Oilers in 2016 and his eventual trade to the Carolina Hurricanes late last season.
Puljujarvi also plotted his way out of Edmonton nearly as many times, if not more. The skilled RW was the fourth overall pick in 2016, but spent more time in the AHL than the NHL in his rookie season, and things were never again right between the player and the organization.
Puljujarvi had only two assists in 17 games with Carolina, but with a little TLC and a little confidence, perhaps a team could find a star with the 6-foot-4, 201-pound Finnish winger.
Perhaps the chance to play with Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby would be a nice selling point?
The potential is tantalizing. The WBS Penguins also have a couple of Finns pushing their way up the Penguins’ depth chart (Valtteri Puustinen, Joel Blomqvist), and that could be a selling point, too.