Five things learned about the Penguins from the NHL Draft |

Five things learned about the Penguins from the NHL Draft

Jonathan Bombulie
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has his final meeting of the season with the media at the team's facility in Cranberry on Wednesday, May 9, 2018.
Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner (53) reacts after scoring an unassisted goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers in New York, Monday, March 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Like a student staring at a blank screen where his term paper should be, the current crop of NHL general managers evidently needs to be motivated by a deadline to get things done.

At the trade deadline, when deals had to be consummated before the clock struck zero, there were transactions galore. At last weekend’s draft, where GMs could wait until later in the summer to make a move if they didn’t find a proposal to their liking, two trades involving roster players were made.

“The draft didn’t have the typical big deals,” Flyers GM Ron Hextall shrugged. “I was as surprised as anybody. I thought there would be some bigger deals, but that’s the way it goes.”

While there weren’t many trades made in Dallas, there were some lessons learned. Here are five things we learned from a Penguins perspective at the draft.

1. Balance means offense

General manager Jim Rutherford’s stated goal for this offseason is to improve his team’s balance and depth.

There is, of course, room for interpretation within that statement. Does he want a balance of left-handed and right-handed shots? A balance of scorers and grinders? A balance of speed and size?

He probably wants all of those things, but the biggest name the Penguins have been linked to in trade rumors — Carolina winger Jeff Skinner — is a straight-up scorer. That indicates the balance Rutherford really craves is scoring threats throughout the lineup.

Remember when the HBK line gave the Penguins three forward groups that could torch opponents at a moment’s notice throughout the 2016 playoffs? Balance like that.

2. Feeding frenzy

If Rutherford is seeking high-end offensive help, he has company.

Perhaps the most headline-worthy news to come out of draft weekend was the word veteran sniper Ilya Kovalchuk agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Kings.

That means the teams that lost out on Kovalchuk — San Jose, Boston and Vegas, primarily — are still going to be on the lookout for offensive help. St. Louis and Nashville, among other teams, have reportedly been sniffing around scorers, too.

It might not happen until the biggest fish in the free-agent pond, John Tavares, decides on his future, but at some point in the next few weeks, it’s reasonable to predict the dam will break and some scorers will be on the move.

Despite his salary-cap limitations, it’s also reasonable to predict Rutherford will be a part of those discussions.

3. Trade blueprint

One of the few moves involving roster players that did happen at draft weekend could provide a blueprint for the Penguins.

The Washington Capitals came into the draft hoping to clear some cap space to re-sign top defenseman John Carlson. To get it, they attached Brooks Orpik’s $4.5 million cap hit to promising young goalie Philipp Grubauer and sent them both to Colorado for a second-round pick.

It’s not far-fetched to suggest the Penguins could craft a junior varsity version of the same deal, attaching Matt Hunwick’s $2.25 million contract to promising young goalie Tristan Jarry to free up some cap room.

4. Phriendly with Phil

There’s no guarantee the Penguins won’t trade Phil Kessel. His stock will never be higher after a 92-point season, and the team is going to need cap room to sign Jake Guentzel and Matt Murray to new contracts over the next two summers. An opposing GM might make an offer they can’t refuse.

That said, if Kessel is moved, it won’t be because of a public feud between himself and Mike Sullivan. The coach made sure of that with a passionate declaration of his respect for the enigmatic winger Friday night.

5. Progressive thinking

After running his first draft as Penguins head scout, Patrik Allvin gave a couple of glimpses into his forward-thinking philosophy on the process.

He apparently values skill over size and production over potential.

Two of the team’s first two draft picks, 5-10 defenseman Calen Addison and 5-9 center Justin Almeida, are undersized prospects who were among the top scorers at their positions in the Western Hockey League last season.

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

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