This seaosn injuries and circumstances opened momentary spots for both Ty Smith and P.O Joseph on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blue line, but that moment will soon pass. There is unlikely to be room in the lineup for both young Penguins defensemen, and that very well could affect the Penguins’ NHL trade deadline plans.
Smith and Joseph have seen their ice times swing dramatically in opposite directions over the past two weeks, and a healthy Penguins’ room may not be big enough for both of them.
Ty Smith, 22, is in his first season with the Penguins. After spending the first few months with the WBS Penguins, Petry’s upper-body injury gave the Penguins space to insert him into the lineup.
The first few games were ho-hum. Smith neither asserted himself nor made big mistakes, though his defensive game needed improvement.
However, Smith’s ice time has grown.
“Ty is has built a strong case for himself. I think he’s playing with confidence,” Sullivan said. “He’s helping us in a number of different ways on the breakouts and along that offensive line. He’s working hard and defending. It’s not perfect back there, but we’re competing hard.”
Joseph’s ice time has shrunk.
Joseph played solid minutes and some of his best hockey before the NHL holiday break. He was very good, with a couple of soft spots in the Winter Classic, but his ice time had already begun to slide.
On Tuesday against Vancouver, he made a couple of mistakes in the first period and played just over 10 minutes.
There’s little question that Smith with Brian Dumoulin has been a solid pairing. Perhaps Dumoulin fills the defensive gaps in Smith’s game. Sullivan hedged his praise, using the context of injuries but also conceded that he’s given big minutes to this pair.
Dumoulin is returning the favor that Ben Lovejoy gave to him as a young defenseman; a lot of talking and a little coaching.
“Maybe (I am) a little more comfortable, but the guys have been doing a good job helping me out,” Smith told PHN. “So I think I think it’s been something that I’ve been trying to build from from the first time I play. Just continue to get better, continue to work on things and and try to jam as much as I can.
But with the sunlight and opportunity for Smith, as well as a season of NHL ice time for Joseph, the Penguins have a pair of defensemen with relatively microscopic salary cap hits, youth, still more potential, and NHL talent.
Smith is further upping his value to the team and market by playing the right side, his off-side.
Yet when Letang and Petry return, there won’t be a roster spot for both.
“We’ve got some big minute guys that are in the lineup, and we’re looking for guys to step up and help us in certain situations,” Sullivan said. “And that duo has done an admirable job. I think Dumo has played his best hockey here as of late. And we’re going to need him to continue to do that moving forward.”
If the only silver lining of the spate of injuries and absences is Brian Dumoulin’s re-emergence, then the Penguins will be better off. Getting Dumoulin back to something close to the defenseman who anchored the left side for a handful of years is a significant improvement.
Smith remains waivers eligible so the Penguins can return him to the WBS Penguins at any time without worry, and the situation could simply end there, and both are around next season. Or Smith or Joseph could help the Penguins in another way.
NHL Trade Deadline
The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t necessarily need to worry about five years from now. Their precarious playoff position and lack of salary cap space have changed the paradigm. Other teams are catching them faster than anticipated. This team is built for today and today only.
The tomorrows are fewer than we thought.
And so, the prime questions might be: Are the Penguins showcasing one of the defensemen? Will GM Ron Hextall use his only surplus to facilitate a deal before the NHL trade deadline?
Defensemen, even creaking d-men, who can take care of their own zone, often pull at least a second-round pick. On many occasions, they cost multiple picks.
What could the Penguins attract with a young, talented defenseman?
That’s hard to say because such defenders are not usually on the market unless their team is giving up on them (similar to New Jersey, including a third-rounder with Smith for John Marino).
Hextall is unlikely to give up his first-round pick in the coming deep draft, but a first-rounder is the price tag to move a salaries veteran. So, perhaps one of the Penguins defensemen is the attached asset with a veteran so the Penguins can move salary in order to add a piece elsewhere.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have precious few trade chips beyond high draft picks. And that makes a young defenseman the easiest, if not the only, option.
Unless the Penguins stand pat.