The Pittsburgh Penguins trade chatter is pointing West. The Penguins need a third-pairing defenseman after rookie defenseman John Marino broke his cheekbone in three places, and will likely have surgery. The latest injury to the Penguins blue line moved Justin Schultz back to his customary second pair with left-side defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Still, the third pairing no longer has a regular NHL defenseman.
According to a rival executive, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is searching for a third-pairing defenseman in the Western Conference.
There are a couple of potential reasons why Rutherford’s search may focus on the West, including the willingness of teams such as the LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks to deal. Both teams find themselves in a rebuilding position, and both sides have capable defensemen. Another reason is the competitiveness of the Eastern Conference. How many teams in the East want to help the Penguins?
In the Western Conference, the Penguins are reportedly interested in a Minnesota Wild forward, assumed to be Jason Zucker. Minnesota defenseman Matt Dumba has also appeared in NHL trade rumors, but the executive expressly indicated Rutherford is shopping for a third-pair defenseman.
The source didn’t say it, but the Penguins probably cannot afford both a big-ticket defenseman and a scoring winger without depleting their organization.
The Penguins third pairing will likely feature Juuso Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel until Rutherford can hook his fish. Riikola and Ruhwedel have played well in small sample sizes with experienced defensemen. However, when paired together, things were not as smooth.
Given the Penguins pecking order, a third pairing lefty to play with Ruhwedel seems to be a more likely target.
Top-pair defenseman Brian Dumoulin has not yet resumed skating after suffering a severed tendon on Nov. 30. Marino figures to be out weeks or more, as well. The Penguins, which have gutted their way through a potentially disastrous spate of injuries, are being pushed to their limit.
Of course, Rutherford and Anaheim GM Bob Murray have hooked up on several deals during Rutherford’s tenure in Pittsburgh, including the early-season Penguins trade of Erik Gudbranson to Anaheim, and last season’s trade of Pettersson for Daniel Sprong. Rutherford also kicked off the Penguins 2016 Stanley Cup run by acquiring Carl Hagelin from Anaheim, too.
Also out West, Calgary has been struggling, but they too are looking for defensemen in the wake of Mark Giordano’s injury. San Jose may have an answer for Rutherford, but Brenden Dillon could be a big-ticket item. Demand for his services could peak closer to the trade deadline.
It’s pure speculation, but an interesting name to consider is Gudbranson. He was popular during his time in Pittsburgh and was an answer to Washington Capitals thumper Tom Wilson.
Another name to watch is Derek Forbort in LA, who is also a steady, reliable defenseman with good size (6-foot-4, 216 pounds). Industry sources in LA immediately brought up the left-handed Forbort.