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Five free-agent forwards who could find fit with Penguins

Jonathan Bombulie
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GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 16: Tobias Rieder #8 of the Arizona Coyotes looks to shoot the puck ahead of Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 16, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There’s a good chance, at some point early Sunday afternoon, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford will have about $2 million burning a hole in his pocket.

He could set aside the salary restricted free agent Jamie Oleksiak is likely to get, complete the rumored transaction for free-agent defenseman Jack Johnson, and still have roughly that much cap space to work with.

He insists he’s OK with that. He doesn’t have to be butting right up against the cap every minute of every day.

“I’m not going to spend the money just to do it,” Rutherford said. “If there’s a guy that we like then we’re going to spend it, and if not, we’re going to sit on it for a while.”

He also insists that he’s fine entrusting the job of adding to the team’s bottom-six scoring punch to some of the team’s prospects, namely Daniel Sprong, Zach Aston-Reese and Dominik Simon.

“We feel very strong about the guys that we have there,” he said.

Still, though, those shiny new toys on the free-market will be enticing.

Shouldn’t Sprong, Aston-Reese and Simon at least have a veteran bottom-six winger they have to beat out to earn their spot?

If Rutherford is tempted, here’s a look at a few free-agent forwards that could fit in his price range, with last year’s salary in parenthesis.

TOBIAS RIEDER ($2.25 million)

A speedy German left wing, Rieder has scored between 12 and 16 goals each of the last four seasons. He kills penalties too.

“Love his speed,” an NHL scout said. “Aggressive guy. He’s kind of up and down the wing. He doesn’t have great vision. His hockey sense is just OK for me. He’s not going to make a play. His chances are going to come off the rush with speed. But to me, he’d be an intriguing guy for Pittsburgh. I could see him playing with a good center, beating a guy wide with his speed. He plays in the hard areas, too.”

ANTHONY DUCLAIR ($1.2 million)

A 22-year-old left wing with tons of tools, Duclair hasn’t found a fit with the Rangers, Arizona or Chicago.

“Someone’s going to take a chance on him,” the scout said. “Talented guy. Great skater. Has a lot of ability. For me, it’s always been his compete and his determination. He just doesn’t have it. I thought he might fit in with Chicago, the way they play, but obviously he didn’t. I don’t know what it is with him. He’s talented. He’s not the smartest player, but he can skate and he can shoot it. I just think he’s not willing to pay the price.”

JANNIK HANSEN ($2.5 million)

Speedy right wing had 22 goals for Vancouver in 2015-16, but has fallen on hard times since.

“To me, I think he’s kind of done,” the scout said. “I think you need a better player. I think he’s kind of stale. I’d much rather Tobias Rieder. I just think he’s getting older. He never did it for me in San Jose. He was a pretty good player in Vancouver, but in San Jose, no good.”

CHRIS KUNITZ ($2 million)

The four-time Stanley Cup winner will be 39 by the start of the season, but one last kick at the can in a familiar place in a fourth-line role might make sense.

“For sure, he’s slowing down. I think he’d admit that. But I think it would be a good fit for the Penguins,” the scout said. “He’s been there. He knows those guys. They know what he brings to the room. If you put him in the right role, I think he’d be effective. I think he still has a chance to be good for another year.”

KYLE BRODZIAK ($950,000)

The 34-year-old would fill a slightly different need for the Penguins. With Carter Rowney and Josh Jooris off to unrestricted free agency, they don’t have a right-handed centerman on the roster.

“I think he’s a very serviceable fourth-line center in the NHL,” the scout said. “He’s a good faceoff guy, he kills penalties and he knows what he’s supposed to do. You’d get the most out of him. He still skates well enough. He’s not a burner or anything, but he skates well enough. He’s a good teammate. I think he’s got some value.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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