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Jake Shake(up): Penguins Trade Guentzel to Carolina



Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes

The Pittsburgh Penguins have traded left winger Jake Guentzel to Carolina.

The Hurricanes gave them a package that includes a conditional 2024 first-round draft choice and left winger Michael Bunting to secure Guentzel, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and defenseman Ty Smith.

The Penguins retained 25 percent of Guentzel’s $6 million salary-cap hit.

The first-round choice in the deal will become a second-rounder Carolina previously acquired from Philadelphia if the Hurricanes do not reach the Stanley Cup final.

The Penguins also will receive three prospects — center Vasily Ponomarev, wingers Cruz Lucius and Ville Koivunen — as well as a fifth-round choice if Carolina wins this year’s Stanley Cup.

In a statement released by the team, Kyle Dubas, the Penguins’ president of hockey operations and GM, called trading Guentzel “one of the most difficult decisions that I have had to make in my time in management.”

Guentzel, 29, is on the Long-Term Injured list because of an unspecified upper-body injury, but is eligible to return to active duty this weekend.

He left as the Penguins’ No. 2 scorer, with 22 goals and 30 assists in 50 games.

His departure creates an obvious void on Sidney Crosby’s left side; Lars Eller, a third-line center for most of the season, filled in there again when the Penguins played Washington Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.

Rickard Rakell, who has been playing on the right side of the No. 1 line, is a candidate to replace Guentzel, especially after first-line right winger Bryan Rust returns from an injury. It also is possible that Bunting will have an opportunity to audition for that job.

Guentzel was a third-round draft choice in 2013 and put up 219 goals and 247 assists in 503 career regular-season games with the Penguins. Guentzel was a member of their Stanley Cup-winning team in 2017, and had 34 goals and 24 assists in 58 career playoff appearances.

The Hurricanes are widely regarded as serious contenders for the Stanley Cup, and Guentzel should add a measure of offensive volatility that Carolina has lacked.

He is scheduled to face his now-former Penguins teammates for the first time March 26, when Carolina will visit PPG Paints Arena at 7:08 p.m.

And while they won’t be happy to have to defend against Guentzel, the Penguins clearly will be happy to renew acquaintances with him, because he was well-liked and highly respected in the locker room.

“He’s a tremendous player on the ice,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “He’s a guy who has so much passion, and he comes to the rink with a big smile every day. He works hard. (His attitude is) contagious around our dressing room.”

Bunting, 28, is 5-foot-11, 197 pounds and plays a solid two-way game, although his offensive productivity has been inconsistent at times.

He has 13 goals and 23 assists in 60 games this season and 70 goals and 92 assists in 247 career appearances with the Hurricanes, Toronto and Arizona.

Bunting had back-to-back seasons with 23 goals while playing for the Maple Leafs in 2021-22 and 2022-23. Not coincidentally, Dubas was Toronto’s GM during Bunting’s time there.

Bunting has two seasons remaining on a contract that carries a salary-cap hit of $4.5 million.

He was held out of the Hurricanes’ game against Montreal Thursday night because the deal with the Penguins was pending.

Ponomarev, 21, is 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, a playmaker reputed to have a heavy shot. He was a second-round draft choice in 2020 and has a goal and an assist in two NHL appearances.

Lucius, a fourth-round pick in 2022, is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, where he has 12 goals and 19 assists in 32 games. He is 19 and checks in at 6-foot, 171 pounds.

Koivunen, 20, was the Hurricanes’ second-round pick in 2021. He is a 6-foot, 172-pound skilled forward who has 21 goals and 34 assists in 57 games with Karpat in Finland’s top league, Liiga.