Penguins could augment free agency with AHL bubble players
Each July 1 for the last three years, the Penguins have supplemented their free-agent harvest with a slew of players on the AHL-NHL bubble.
They’ll sign for around the league minimum on the NHL portion of two-way deals and find their names in zero headlines.
By the end of the season, though, they probably will find their way into somewhat significant roles in the Penguins lineup.
In 2015, July 1 addition Kevin Porter ended up with his name on the Stanley Cup. Chad Ruhwedel, a 2016 signee, played 34 NHL games that season and worked his way into the top six by the time the playoffs rolled around last year. Greg McKegg, a 2017 acquisition, started the season as the everyday fourth-line center and ended up playing 26 games for the Penguins.
The trend is likely to continue Sunday when this year’s free-agent signing period begins.
On defense, the Penguins have a couple of bubble players capable of playing NHL minutes. The team thinks highly of newly signed Finnish defenseman Juuso Riikola. Kevin Czuczman and Chris Summers have some NHL experience.
Beyond that, reinforcements will likely be required. Andrey Pedan and Lukas Bengtsson left Wilkes-Barre for Europe. Frankie Corrado, still on the mend from a season-ending injury in February, will be an unrestricted free agent, as will Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman.
Assistant general manager Bill Guerin said he has interest in keeping players such as Tinordi and Trotman in the fold.
“We feel that they fit what we’re trying to do,” Guerin said. “Those guys are extremely important to us. We’re looking to bring guys back and add.”
Up front, Carter Rowney and Josh Jooris, right-handed centers who played fairly significant roles last season, are likely to depart as unrestricted free agents.
The Penguins might want to try to replace them in the free-agent market.
Then again, they might not.
“We have to look at improving the team any way we can, but at center, we’ve got Teddy Blueger, we’ve got J.S. Dea. We’ve got guys that have given us games before,” Guerin said. “We’ve got younger guys coming in like Linus Olund. Sam Lafferty is signed now. We just have to surround them with some veteran players so they can develop at the right pace.”
The Penguins will probably also be in the market for a bubble winger or two, especially if they’re unable to snag a scoring winger for their bottom six at a reasonable price at the NHL level. Instead, they could add a crop of players on two-way deals who at least can make prospects Daniel Sprong, Zach Aston-Reese and Dominik Simon earn their spots in the lineup.