There just aren’t many potentially available right-handed defensemen floating around in the NHL. Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford is on record, the Penguins will first seek to solve Justin Schultz’ absence “in-house” but that doesn’t mean the Penguins won’t seek to upgrade their third pairing right side. The Penguins launched into the 2018-19 season with a roster heavy on left-handed defensemen and after the injury to Schultz have only one right-handed defenseman in their top-six.
The Penguins were gambling on players out of position. Things have not gone poorly, but they haven’t been smooth, either.
“There’s a fair amount of players in the league today that can play their off side,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “It happens a lot of with European players, they tend to like to play their off side.”
While the Penguins have touted the versatility of their lefty blueliners Jack Johnson, Jamie Oleksiak, and Juuso Riikola to play on the right side, it’s been otherwise clear the defenders are better on the left side. I just think it’s not something that we get too much thought into
But finding a right-hander for the right side could prove difficult. Saturday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman echoed sentiments which have also been expressed by PHN that if and when the Penguins decide to balance their blue line, Olli Maatta and his $4 million salary could be the reciprocal piece. From Friedman’s 31 Thoughts:
“Not sure how confident they are in Olli Maatta, so he’s probably the defenceman [sic] in the market,” wrote Friedman.
Whether or not Maatta is the odd-man out is yet to be determined, though on paper it seems the likeliest option. However, the next word Pittsburgh Hockey Now hears about Maatta being out of favor or the organization not having confidence in him would be the first.
There are few teams which may have an expendable righty who would be more valuable than the Penguins Chad Ruhwedel. Of the teams which scouted the Penguins last two games, only the New York Rangers have an expendable right-side solution. The following are only potentials based on lineup status and team depth. They are not to be construed as trade rumors.
3. New York Rangers: Tony DeAngelo ($1.263. Expires 2018-19. RFA status)
DeAngelo and Pionk are right-handed defensemen who have been battling each other for a spot in the Rangers lineup. DeAngelo, 22, brings some unique baggage. He was suspended in 2016-17 for three games after “attempting” to shove an official. In the past, he has also been a healthy scratch in the Tampa Bay organization for attitude issues. His Twitter feed is also stridently partisan (you may have noticed the slight division in the country over Trump’s presidency).
DeAngelo is a slick skating potential offensive powerhouse who is improving his defensive game. At 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, he’s also a bit undersized for the NHL game. He is currently the Rangers’ seventh defenseman. However, in the summer of 2017, the Rangers specifically targeted DeAngelo as part of the Derek Stepan deal to Arizona.
Last season, DeAngelo played 32 NHL games with eight assists.
2. Dallas Stars: Connor Carrick ($1.3 million. Expires 2018-19. RFA Status).
Carrick was widely available at the end of training camp after he failed to win a job with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Dallas only coughed up a conditional seventh-round choice. He started the first six games of the season but was scratched Saturday to make space for Dallas’ 2014 first-round choice Julius Honka.
Carrick, 24, has four points (1g, 3a) in those six games. He is 5-foot-11, 192 pounds and is another offensive defenseman who struggles with the defensive zone.
1. Carolina Hurricanes: Trevor Van Riemsdyk ($2.3 million. Expires 2019-20. UFA Status).
Chicago exposed Van Riemsdyk in the 2017 Expansion Draft. Vegas selected then flipped him to Carolina, shortly afterward. Currently, Carolina employs four righties in their top-six. TVR is playing on the left side of talented 23-year-old defenseman Brett Pesce.
Van Riemsdyk had 16 points (3g, 13a) in 29 games last season. He has one assist in seven games this season.
Of course, the Penguins also have right-hander Chad Ruhwedel in the press box. Over the past two seasons, Ruhwedel has been a steady defender for the Penguins when called upon. He took over for Matt Hunwick last season and played all 12 playoff games, though he was pointless.
Ruhwedel is a good puck mover and defensively responsible even if he needs to improve his physical strength to avoid being outmuscled by opponents.