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Projecting New Penguins Lineup; More Trades Coming?

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Lars Eller, Drew O'Connor

The first few days of the Pittsburgh Penguins captain’s practices or training camp this fall might require name tags after Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas signed seven new players at the start of NHL free agency Monday.

Hello, My Name is: Sidney.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has already reached out to the newbies. He’s been skating at the UPMC Lemieux Complex, making it easier for Dubas to keep him apprised of the attempt to essentially turn around the Titanic. Dubas is certainly doing things differently than any GM in Penguins’ history.

Never before have the Penguins been able to sell salary cap space for draft picks, not once but twice, and still have more room than when they started. Dubas essentially sold cap space Saturday when he acquired Kevin Hayes and a second-round pick for future consideration, and again Monday when he ate 25% of Reilly Smith’s contract for the fifth-round pick in the deal.

The significant signings Monday packed the bottom of the Penguins lineup and fortified the blue line. Gone are defenseman P.O Joseph, who was not given a qualifying offer, and Smith, who was traded to the New York Rangers.

On Monday, Dubas said he projected Kevin Hayes as a center. The move will allow coach Mike Sullivan to shift Noel Acciari to the wing, which is good for the Penguins because Acciari can be a chaos-creating forechecking nightmare for opponents when he’s allowed to chase opposing defensemen with the freedom of a winger.

The signing of Blake Lizotte further underscores the push for the bottom six to have a little more speed and grit. While Lizotte is only 5-foot-7, opposing defensemen know him well.

Pittsburgh Penguins Blaze Lizotte hits Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers

The above photo shows Lizotte lifting 6-foot-6 defenseman Tyler Myers off the ice with a hit. Lizotte is high-energy and in constant motion. While he slumped to only seven goals and 15 points last season, the year prior, he had a career-high 34 points, including 23 assists.

However, as we lay out the Penguins’ upcoming lines, there is no space for young players such as Vasily Ponomarev or Sam Poulin. Dubas has not been shy about his desire to see those players in the lineup, and thus far, he’s followed through on his stated offseason plans.

On the blue line, we project Ryan Graves to be given a chance at redemption. Should he falter, he and Grzelcyk would swap places, and should he continue to falter, Ryan Shea could take his lineup spot.

Potential Penguins Lines

Drew O’Connor–Sidney Crosby–Bryan Rust

Michael Bunting–Evgeni Malkin–Rickard Rakell

Anthony Beauvillier–Kevin Hayes–Valtteri Puustinen

Blake Lizotte–Lars Eller–Noel Acciari

Defense

Ryan Graves–Kris Letang

Marcus Pettersson–Erik Karlsson

Matt Grzelcyk–Jack St. Ivany

Unfinished Product

The lines with presumptive inhabitants are clearly not a finished product because there is not enough offense in the bottom six. On paper, it is even worse than last season when depth scoring was rarely praised, and it’s putting a lot of hope on the shoulders of Beauvillier, who has cracked the 40-point barrier just once in his eight-year career.

It’s more probable than plausible that another Penguins trade or two will free at least one lineup spot. The lines don’t quite have balance yet; the third line with Anthony Beauvillier and Valtteri Puustinen isn’t a good line.

The fourth line could be quite unique, but as we’ve constructed it, one shouldn’t expect an ounce of offense from it. Perhaps Lizotte or Acciari could elevate to the third line, but that would only add defense, not offense, to the third line.

There are too many NHL players and NHL players waiting in the wings, including Jesse Puljujarvi, to stand pat. Puljujarvi will also be an interesting watch. He has more than enough talent to contribute to any NHL roster. He’s big, can be physical, can skate well when he’s healthy, and somewhere in there is scoring touch. Would he accept being demoted to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins or plates of press box nachos?

No, with a suspect third line, what makes the most sense is more trades. It would seem Lars Eller is now fully expendable to the Penguins but valuable to a team trying to get over the hump or a borderline championship team needing his leadership and defensive acumen. Dubas wants draft picks, and Eller should fetch a third-rounder at worst.

Trading Eller would allow Lizotte to move to center, freeing a space for Vasily Ponomarev.

Perhaps Acciari is also expendable? However, his value as a penalty killer and as a winger is unique. Coach Mike Sullivan specifically circled the Penguins’ need to protect leads in the 2024-25 season, and Acciari could be a bigger part of that equation.

There are several free agents still on the market and the Penguins have over $4 million in cap space to spend.¬†Regardless of what comes next, looking at the lines, it’s obvious that more work remains.