The 2017-18 NHL season is coming to the home stretch before the Stanley Cup playoffs. Teams are starting to establish themselves as contenders or settle for selling assets and hoping to win the Dahlin lottery. After some early season rough patches, the Penguins are clicking like they’ve shown us they can – Phil Kessel is a Hart contender, Evgeni Malkin is score again and Sidney Crosby is back to his old generational self. But before we can think of the playoffs, Jim Rutherford has to look at his roster and the trade deadline. The Penguins have plenty of options. One potential option is to look for cheaper depth rather than make a splash. We’ll look at a few potential options if that is the route the Pens choose.
Nick Shore, Center – Los Angeles Kings
6’1” 195 lb – 46 GP, 3 G, 9 A, -5
One of the popular theories is that the cost of a high-end third line center like Jean-Gabriel Pageau is too high and we will stick with Riley Sheahan and add center depth to play 4C. Nick Shore would perfectly fit that bill. The former 3rd round pick has been a depth center in Los Angeles for a few seasons now and is solidifying himself as a defensive presence. He won’t produce heavily like Matt Cullen did, but he has a respectable 12 points on a defensive team with very little offensive zone time.
The Kings are still very much alive in the playoff hunt. Certainly not in a position to sell, but they have an interesting dilemma going forward. Jeff Carter has been out most of the year but will return soon. When he does, the Kings will have a plethora of centers – Anze Kopitar, Adrian Kempe, Jonny Brodzinski, Andy Andreoff, Shore and Carter. While they could put Kempe on the wing and keep Shore at 3C, a good deal coming their way could make them bite.
Shore would be a nice fit for the Penguins. He averages 14:38 minutes per game and sees 61.6% dZone starts. He has a 51.9 CF% and can PK well in addition to being a strong, minute eating 4th liner. He’s a solid offensive contributor as well given his deployment. I would definitely feel more confident with him regularly slotting in at 4C over Carter Rowney.
Matt Cullen, Center – Minnesota Wild
6’1” 202 lb – 52 GP, 5 G, 8 A, -7
The Pens look to bring back Papa Cullen? Plenty of sources, including Pittsburgh media, have said the Penguins have interest in bringing Cullen back to the team. Minnesota has not established themselves as a true contender and with a major injury to Jonas Brodin, they may recoup some assets and regroup for next season.
Cullen has not replicated his fountain of youth seasons he had with Pittsburgh, though. He has looked noticeably slow while playing with Chris Stewart and Marcus Foligno, who are themselves a little more Astro Van than Ferrari. He has decent point totals for a 4C with 13 points in 52 games. But his defensive game as been subpar. He is averaging less time on ice and despite pretty even deployment (50.1% dZone starts), he is awful in the CF% department at 38.8. His sharp decrease could be due to multiple factors, but I would not put him at the top of the Penguins list.
Derek Ryan, Center – Carolina Hurricanes
5’11” 170 lb – 51 GP, 11 G, 15 A, -16
Derek Ryan could potentially even play that 3C spot, to be honest. He isn’t the most defensively sound guy, but the league is shifting from the usual defensive role of the bottom 6. He’s a small, skilled forward who can put up points, win faceoffs and mesh in the Penguins system. Carolina is still struggling to make a move into a playoff spot in the Metro and has goaltending issues, so they may look to sell and move on to next year.
Ryan has the most points of the centers listed because he plays more offensive time and also sees power play time in Carolina. He is a guy with an offensive game and can play good minutes – averaging 16:18 in Carolina. He has been a bit sheltered with 62.3% oZone starts but has a very favorable 56.7 CF%. That, to me, suggests he can handle a bit tougher of a role.
The only issue with acquiring Ryan is the Penguins would be down to one PK center – Sheahan. Crosby can PK, but it isn’t the best idea to overplay Sid. Bryan Rust would likely have to slide in as a PK center.
Blake Comeau, Right Wing – Colorado Avalanche
6’1” 202 lb – 53 GP, 10 G, 12 A, +2
This is my first guess that really has not been rumored yet. Blake Comeau is having a really good year as a bottom six winger in Colorado. He has 22 points in 53 games while averaging 15:44 minutes a night. With the injury to Nathan MacKinnon, the Avalanche might be willing to sell and continue building. Joe Sakic has already done remarkably well this season in terms of making deals.
The Penguins have injury issues of their own. Tom Kuhnhackl could be out long term, as he was reported week-to-week in early February. Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary are also dealing with injuries. The thing with Comeau is he could play anywhere in the lineup – if Sid needs a winger, or if we just need somebody on the 4th line. He can also PK and ideally would slot into a healthy lineup as well as he can play left or right.
Comeau is in the last year of a $2.2M AAV deal. Colorado would likely have no issue retaining up to half to move him. The Ryan Reaves debate has been beaten to death, so I’ll keep it short – more winger depth that keeps Reaves out of a playoff game lineup is good for the Penguins. Teams can exploit a bad 4th line and Kuhnhackl-Rowney-Reaves (when healthy) is not going to cut it.
Oscar Fantenberg, Left Handed Defenseman – Los Angeles Kings
6’0” 210 lb – 26 GP, 2 G, 7 A, +3
I tried not to look too much at defense as I don’t see a move unless we move Ian Cole. But when I looked at Shore, what LA needed and what we could give – Ian Cole came to mind. We’ll get to that. Fantenberg is in his first year in the NHL and has done well, playing as a decent 6th/7th defenseman for the Kings. He has been decent offensively and defensively and provides stability on the blue line, similar to Ian Cole.
Fantenberg averages 14:07 minutes per night. He has 9 points in 26 games, good for a 0.35 PPG rate (that would put him on pace for roughly 28 points for a full 82 game season). He has 52.9% of his starts in the offensive zone with a 46.2 CF% — not exactly great but good enough for a 7th defenseman. The Penguins are also good at masking a lesser defenseman, like Chad Ruhwedel, by putting him in the right situation to succeed.
My thought regarding Cole was a package that brought Nick Shore, Fantenberg and a pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for Ian Cole, who would look to sign an extension. The Kings top 4 is set with Forbort – Doughty, Muzzin – Martinez but adding a stable guy like Ian Cole to the 3rd pairing would help for the Kings. Not to mention, his style is very favorable there.