The most common Pittsburgh Penguins player mentioned when discussing the upcoming April 12 NHL trade deadline is defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Penguins fans seem eager to trade away Pettersson, but in the next breath, expect the Penguins trade receipt to be top young players or useable pieces because the other team is so happy to get Pettersson.
We’ll call it the fan privilege. We’ll also call it the (trigger warning) Jack Johnson treatment, albeit with kid gloves.
On Monday, Pittsburgh Penguins depth defenseman Mark Friedman returned to the NHL practice for the first time since his wild March 4 game against his former team, the Philadelphia Flyers. Friedman nearly had a Gordie Howe hat trick but suffered an injury when Nolan Patrick boarded him, shortly after Friedman scored his first NHL goal.
The Penguins new GM Ron Hextall snagged Friedman off waivers from Philadelphia during Hextall’s first weeks on the job earlier this season. It remains Hextall’s only acquisition, and we await his first Penguins trade. Unfortunately, there have been only two trades in the NHL leading to next Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
The Pittsburgh Penguins forward depth is being tested as the team reaches its 16th, 17th, and 18th forwards to make a four-line roster. As impressive as some of the newbies and down-line players have been, they’re not tradeable assets.
So, unless the Penguins want to deal one of their two picks in the 2021 NHL Draft (second, fifth), or part with a pair of solid prospects (Sam Poulin, Nathan Legare), there remains only one Penguins area of expendable depth.
Mike Matheson and Cody Ceci have solidified the Penguins’ top-four. The pair have been quite good and productive, which leaves us with the third pairing, Pettersson-John Marino, and depth.
Marino, 23, is all but off the table.
Pettersson, 24, is in the first year of a five-year, $20.125 million deal. His bonafides, if you’ve forgotten, are steady-eddy play, a buttery soft first pass, a condor’s reach, and what coaches call a good hockey IQ.
The downsides are his lack of quickness and physicality.
Friedman, 25, had 11 games of NHL experience, including a couple as a winger when the Flyers lineup was depleted due to injuries and COVID protocols. His scouting report includes adequate puck movement and speed. It also includes a slight lack of size (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) but a good bit of sandpaper.
We joined Pettersson and Friedman together at the top of the column because it seems if the Penguins were to find a dance partner, a defenseman would be the primary offering. Friedman would be the player to step into the lineup should either a right or left-handed d-man.
Friedman, 25, is a righty but played on the left side in the minors. While a left-right pairing balance is optimum, a few defensemen can do both or even be better on their off-hand.
Friedman was the Philadelphia Flyers third-round pick in 2014. Flyers GM Ron Hextall and Hextall’s right-hand man, Chris Pryor, selected Friedman in the third round of the 2014 NHL draft.
All three are reunited with the Penguins.
The Penguins also have an interesting replacement or trade piece with Juuso Riikola. Riikola, 27, has been mired in the press box for three seasons without a chance to hone his skills in the AHL but too raw for the NHL unless needed. He’s played just 75 NHL games over three seasons, but the Penguins fear someone will snap him up if they try to slip him through waivers.
Given the Penguins’ break-neck tempo and what it’s done to most opponents, Riikola seems to be a natural fit. He’s a gritty defenseman with speed and decent hands.
But he desperately needs ice time on a North American rink.
Detroit or Anaheim seems like a perfect fit.
Could a struggling team with available ice accept Riikola in lieu of a prospect to complete a Penguins trade? This keyboard surely would. Riikola is an NHL defenseman, probably, but 75 games sure aren’t enough time to complete a transformation from the large Finnish rinks to the smaller North American rinks.
But this keyboard also isn’t at the helm of an NHL team, and the lottery commission hasn’t yet awarded us hundreds of millions based on our petition that the odds are unfairly rigged against people who don’t buy tickets.
The Penguins also have P.O. Joseph now beginning to marinate in the minors. He had an exceptional run in the NHL this season. It was a glimpse of the Penguins’ future top pairing with Joseph, 21, and Marino. The boy wonders played their best hockey of the season together, but Joseph faded when the situation thrust him onto the Penguins top pair with Kris Letang.
Could Joseph again step in as a third-pair LHD? Probably, but the NHL playoffs are a different game with intense pressure. A young defenseman who isn’t quite ready can be warped.
So, with the foundation now laid, can the Pittsburgh Penguins trade away Pettersson?
If this is THE season to win and likely the LAST season in which “win now” is the mantra, are any of the Penguins depth pieces better than Pettersson?
Would the return piece bolster the Penguins more than the loss? And, can the accepting team accept Pettersson’s salary at the full boat? With (trigger warning) Jack Johnson’s contract on the books until 2026, the Penguins can ill-afford four years with more dead money on the books.
Friedman, Riikola, and Joseph are not, at this moment, better than Pettersson. So, while the answer for a Riikola – Penguins trade is easily yes, and a Joseph – Penguins trade easily no, Pettersson is…maybe.
Welcome to the stagnant, clogged, and constipated 2021 NHL trade deadline. Hold onto your butts–it will keep your hands warm with all of the inactivity.