What Pittsburgh Penguins Could Be Available at the Deadline?

 

Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare could be guys on the outs at the trade deadline. Courtesy of AHL.com


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Over the past few weeks, I've been focusing on guys that the Penguins could be targeting as the March 21st trade deadline approaches. There have been a ton of names that have surfaced across the trade market. Some the Pens could be interested in and others that are more long shots but fun to talk about anyway.

What we haven't focused on is who could be available off the Penguins' roster or their prospects that may be traded as they look to improve and put themselves in a class among the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Florida Panthers in the East.

Clearly, not every player on the list is going to be traded or even put into the discussion. However, these names make sense as change of scenery guys or prospects that teams might value for their future.

In an ideal world, unless the Penguins are players on a major trade piece, they keep most of their current roster together. But to get players, you've got to give up players so anything is possible.

Kasperi Kapanen

In most people's minds, Kasperi Kapanen's name comes to the forefront.

Kapanen's season has been a major disappointment and he's been the ultimate frustration for Mike Sullivan and his coaching staff this season.  Everyone knows how talented Kapanen is. He's showed it on occasion over the course of his career in both Toronto and Pittsburgh. He was a first-round draft choice for a reason.

Last season, Kapanen showed a lot of chemistry with Evgeni Malkin in the short time they played together. With Malkin injured to start the season, the thought of Kapanen and Malkin reuniting certainly gave Penguins fans hope that he could jumpstart Malkin upon his return. Except the opposite has happened.

Aside from his usual turnovers, Malkin has been very good since returning from injury. Kapanen, who has suffered an in-game demotion from Malkin's line on five different occasions, has been abysmal. He has one goal in his last 25 games. His overall play and decision making shows a lack of confidence in himself, which is totally understandable at this point, but the Penguins need him to be better.

Kapanen and his $3.2 million cap hit could be used to shed cap space or acquire someone in a trade. I think either way, the Penguins would like to get out from underneath that cap space. He is a restricted free agent after the year but I don't suspect the Penguins will be too interested in keeping him around.

Evan Rodrigues

Pittsburgh has an interesting decision to make with Evan Rodrigues. He'll be a free agent following the season and is currently making $1 million on this contract. With 16 goals on the season, Rodrigues is in line for some sort of pay raise. How steep that will be is yet to be determined.

If Rodrigues would've signed an extension in December, he'd likely be a very rich man. But being in the scoring slump that he has been, it seems like the scoring burst Rodrigues had early in the year was an anomaly.  Is he a good player that will surely get more than $1 million a year on his next deal? I'd say definitely. But he might not be getting in the $4-5 million neighborhood that he could've been in earlier this year.

The Penguins may decide Rodrigues is more the player that is slumping currently than the one who couldn't stop scoring early on in the season.  They could gauge whether a team wants to overpay for Rodrigues' services. While I picture this scenario unlikely, it's something Hextall could look to do with so many free agent decisions to make already this offseason.

John Marino

Jim Rutherford had a penchant for signing Penguins' defensemen to long-term deals. Their top-six, when healthy, are accounting for $25.4 million towards the salary cap. Everyone outside of Chad Ruhwedel has the salary of a top-four defenseman. While that is all well and good, it certainly hinders some of what they can do on the forward market.

Marino's current $4.4 million cap hit will be on the books for another five seasons after this one. His rookie season was definitely a good one and had the looks of a star in the making, which would've made this deal look like a bargain. Instead, his play has steadily regressed and the contract, while not an albatross, is a bit of a hinderance on the Penguins' cap situation for what has become an average player.

Marino is still only 24 so he could certainly be going through some growing pains. It's worth holding on to him for a little while longer to find out. However, if the right offer comes along, the Penguins would be wise to listen.

Mark Friedman has played well in Mike Matheson's absence and brings a physical edge that many on this team don't have. As a right-handed shot, Friedman could seamlessly replace Marino without having to shake up the pairings all that much.

I don't think Hextall would do it but, for the right price, he'd be foolish not to listen.

Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare

It's no secret that the Penguins aren't the most prospect rich team in the NHL. In fact, most publications would have them dead last when it comes to their prospect system. It's been that way for a while.

Back in 2015, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup with guys like Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Conor Sheary, and Scott Wilson coming up and playing major roles with the team. Higher end prospects like Jake Guentzel and Matt Murray made their mark over the next 12 months or so too. None of them were truly regarded among the top prospects in hockey though. They just fit the system.

So many of these "barren" prospects might not be stars, but could they play roles for Pittsburgh one day that give them internal worth? Absolutely.

There won't be many of those guys coveted by other teams but some may intrigue as longer shot prospects that could one day help other teams.

Penguins fans have closely watched the development of Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare over the past few seasons. Poulin was the 21st overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft and Legare was the 74th. Legare was a surpise to Penguins fans because he ranged anywhere from a top 20 to a top 60 prospect on most pre-draft boards. The Penguins traded up to acquire him.

Neither has been real impressive in their debuts in America as they've been healthy scratches at times in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. They're certainly improving but don't figure to be stars for the Penguins according to scouts around the league.

However, no one expected Guentzel or Rust to be perennial 25-goal scorers on Sidney Crosby's wing either. Players can luck into the right situation.

The Penguins may use them as trade bait in acquiring someone who can upgrade the current roster.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph

Other Penguins prospects that may interest teams could be guys like Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Alex Nylander, and Drew O'Connor.

P.O. Joseph was acquired when the Penguins sent Phil Kessel to the Coyotes. A former first-rounder, Joseph hasn't been able to crack the lineup in the NHL on a full-time basis. Most scouts label him a bottom-pairing defenseman at best so his first-round status could be used to entice another team.

Alex Nylander

Nylander was acquired earlier this season in exchange for Sam Lafferty. Nylander was a former first-rounder that hasn't progressed as such but has more upside than Lafferty so the Penguins decided to take a chance on him. He has eight goals and 16 points in 24 games for WBS. At 24, 

Nylander's best hockey is likely still ahead of him. Seeing he was traded for Lafferty, his value can't be high especially if he hasn't cracked the NHL roster yet. Maybe a team sees him as a valuable player in a trade and the Penguins move him. However, I wouldn't mind keeping him around and seeing what he has.

Drew O'Connor

O'Connor is listed here more as a wild card. I actually believe that he should be in the lineup right now over someone like a Dominik Simon or Zach Aston-Reese. He was on the shelf for a while with a collapsed lung but is now back fully healthy and playing for WBS. O'Connor has three goals in 22 games for the Penguins this year. There is no shame in seeing what he can do with the big club.

With 14 points in 13 AHL games, O'Connor is playing good hockey. If the Penguins don't see him as one of their best 13 or 14 forwards, maybe dangling him as a young, 23-year old bottom-six guy to another team can sweeten the deal in a trade.

Of course, maybe none of these guys find their way to another team this trade deadline. However, if the Penguins make a move, they will have to part with someone and this feels like a list of players with the best odds of donning a new sweater after March 21st.

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