The Pittsburgh Penguins peppered the Ottawa Senators, Saturday night but scored just one goal. Penguins center Evgeni Malkin has just three goals in his past 17 games as his line has struggled to generate offensive consistency amid turnovers and defensive lapses. In fact, Malkin has only one even strength goal since Oct. 30.
The Penguins third line center Derick Brassard is not wasting ink on the score sheet either.
While the Penguins top line with Sidney Crosby has been scoring and creating chances, and even the fourth line has been chipping in, the Penguins middle lines have not been carrying their expected weight.
Last Saturday after a loss to the hapless Philadelphia Flyers, Mike Sullivan was blunt, “Our fourth line has been really good. I think Sid’s line has been really good,” he said. “And we’ve got to find a way to get some production through the middle of the lineup.”
Last week, Pittsburgh Hockey Now reported the Penguins would like middle-six forward help, and they were prepared to deal a defenseman to obtain it. There are a couple of pending UFAs believed to be on the market which falls into the category of wishful thinking–notably Detroit Red Wing Gustav Nyquist, who is on pace for over 70 points this season.
Another potential dream-on candidate is Philadelphia big man Wayne Simmonds. At 30-years-old, injuries have been taking their toll on Simmonds’ performance, say nothing of the difficulty dealing a player like Simmonds within the division while Philadelphia still entertains visions of being competitive.
3 Middle-Six Trade Candidates
Charlie Coyle. Cap Hit $3.2 million. UFA 2020
Coyle is a big body who can play center or wing, which would give the Penguins options. Coyle, 26, has natural offensive instincts even if he doesn’t play like someone who is 6-foot-3, 221 pounds.
Minnesota is “unraveling” according to their coach Bruce Boudreau. They were given this weekend off to regroup. New GM Paul Fenton has a stale crew which has never achieved postseason success and has not yet begun to put his stamp on the team.
Coyle could fit well with the Penguins style and add some offense, from center or wing to their third line for less cap space than Bryan Rust. Coyle has 13 points (4g, 9a) in 29 games this season, mostly playing on the right side of Mikael Granlund.
Sam Bennett. Cap Hit $1.95 million. RFA 2019
Bennett has not yet translated his offensive potential into big numbers in the NHL. The 2014 fourth-overall pick may never do so, but the potential remains. Bennett has a good frame, 6-foot, 200 pounds. He is a player with a big heart and a fire.
This season, Bennett has only nine points (4g, 5a) in 30 games despite frequent second line duty. His career best was 18 goals and 18 assists, in 2015-16. Bennett had 26 points in each of the past two seasons. Bennett is only 22-years-old, but his name has already appeared in trade speculation.
Respect to Calgary second line Mark Jankowski, but he isn’t Malkin or Brassard. Or even close.
Mats Zuccarello. Cap Hit $4.5 million. UFA
The New York Rangers are in a rebuilding mode. GM Jeff Gorton has been efforting to get younger and faster. Zuccarello, 31, was a key component in the New York Rangers playoff success in 2014 and 2015. At just 5-foot-8, he’s small, but Penguins fans have seen him perform too well in the postseason. Zuccarello had strong chemistry with current Penguins center Derick Brassard. The two were consistent linemates.
According to the NaturalStattrick.com line tool, over the course of two seasons, 2013-14 and 2014-15, Brassard and Zuccarello produced positives in every statistical category, including Corsi (54 percent), Goals for (61 percent), Scoring Changes (55 percent) and High Dangers Scoring Chances (55 percent).
Zuccarello is pesky with a high-intensity motor, playmaking skills and nose for the net. His name is always on the score sheet. He has 10 points (3g, 7a) in 17 games this season but is battling a groin injury.
The Rangers decided to rebuild despite being in playoff contention last season. Their middling success this season won’t be a deterrent to getting better for the future. Zuccarello recently told his hometown newspaper in Norway that he did not expect to finish his career in New York.
The Rangers will likely want a futures piece for Zuccarello, but fortunately, he doesn’t rise to the level of a first-round pick. If and when the Rangers make him available, it would make sense if Penguins Jim Rutherford were first in line. Zuccarello could make the Penguins third line lethal again.