The Pittsburgh Penguins have contacted the Montreal Canadiens and reportedly contacted the Carolina Hurricanes in search of a high-test left wing. Thus far, they have not come close to a deal because the price for such a commodity remains above their reach. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Penguins LW need can wait. In fact, it may not be a need at all.
The Penguins top-six left wings are set. Jake Guentzel will roll beside Sidney Crosby. Carl Hagelin will sidesaddle Evgeni Malkin. Bryan Rust is capable of taking the third line left wing, and Riley Sheahan or Matt Cullen could dot fourth line left side. Or some combination of Dominik Simon or Zach Aston-Reese could fill the bottom-six left side.
The Penguins have solid options, not desperate hail marys like the last season search for depth centers which included Guentzel.
Hagelin does often not show up on the score sheet, but any eyes will tell you he was a crucial piece beside Malkin last season. The advanced analytics bear that out. Whether it was Rust or Hornqvist on the right side, the Penguins “second” line was dominant (the same could not be written for Phil Kessel’s inclusion on that line).
Simon is a compelling case, as well. Last season, he played over 240 minutes with Sidney Crosby, and the duo had a Corsi above 60 percent and a Fenwick above 63 percent. They also had 63 percent of the scoring chances and 63 percent of the goals scored. Simon was also a positive contributor with Derick Brassard, in limited ice time. (All stats according to NaturalStatTrick.com)
Simon is a quick skater with playmaking skills. The Czech born Simon’s rookie season and only his third season in North America showed cause for optimism.
The Penguins certainly do not need a left wing at a king’s ransom. There simply isn’t a need to overpay or even meet a high price for a left wing who could become a third liner.
Another benefit to waiting could be increased opportunity for Daniel Sprong. By moving Bryan Rust to the left side, Sprong could earn more ice time beside talented center Brassard. Rust-Brassard-Sprong could be a dynamic line if the sophomore Sprong is ready for it.
Sprong has struggled in 26 NHL games, spread over three professional seasons. He played 18 games in his first professional year, 2014-15, then eight more last season. In his NHL career, he has only four goals and one assist, but his natural skills have teased the Penguins organization and fans, alike. Last month, the Penguins signed Sprong to a two-year NHL contract. He is no longer waiver exempt, so if he doesn’t crack the lineup, the Penguins must risk losing Sprong to send him to the minors.
A certified top-shelf left wing would exponentially increase the chance Sprong would be squeezed out of the lineup. Such an acquisition would almost certainly force Sprong to the fourth line because he would be behind Hornqvist, Kessel, and Rust.
In PHN’s breakdown of potential 2018-19 line combos, this writer put Sprong on the fourth line because he has not yet proven NHL worthy. However, if the Penguins did acquire a left wing, Sprong would likely be a fourth liner regardless of his worthiness.
Unless the Penguins put Rust and his new $3.5 million annual salary on the fourth line.
The Penguins just don’t need a left wing to begin the season. In fact, not acquiring one could have significant benefits. Simon and Sprong could make the Penguins quite happy they left ice time available.