Penguins position breakdown: Team enjoys glut on left wing
Editor’s note: Heading into the NHL draft June 22-23 and the opening of the free-agent signing period July 1, staff writer Jonathan Bombulie will conduct a six-part, position-by-position examination of the team’s organizational depth chart.
Put aside salary cap concerns. Forget gauging how long a team’s championship window will stay open. Shelve those Phil Kessel rumors for a while.
On the most basic level, the easiest way a hockey team can improve in the offseason is trade from a position where there’s an excess to bolster a position where there’s a void.
For the Penguins this summer, left wing is a position of excess. The team has one budding star and five other players capable of playing a regular shift on a championship-caliber team.
One of them easily could be moved to shore up a weakness, like on defense, for example.
The budding star, incidentally, is Jake Guentzel. After a decent regular season, he was brilliant in the playoffs for the second straight year. He finished tied for fifth in the league in postseason scoring, even though he played two full rounds fewer than those around him on the leaderboard.
In fact, the emergence of Guentzel as a permanent fixture on the left side of the top line might end up being the most lasting effect of the 2018 playoffs for the Penguins.
In the NHL
Last year: 22-26—48. Age: 23. Years left on contract: 1
Last year: 10-21—31. Age: 29. Years left on contract: 1
Last year: 18-12—30. Age: 26. Years left on contract: 2
Last year: 2-6—8. Age: 26. Years left on contract: RFA
Last year: 4-2—6. Age: 23. Years left on contract: 1
Last year: 4-8—12.Age: 23.Years left on contract: RFA
Guentzel’s four-goal performance in Game 6 against the Flyers forever will be etched in Penguins history. The big, new contract he’ll get next summer could shape some of the moves the team will make over the next 12 months. … After a horrible start to the year, Hagelin finished strong, cementing his status as a perfect speedy complement to a skilled center. … An 18-goal season with 16 coming at even strength isn’t terrible, but long slumps in the middle of the season and in the playoffs cast a shadow on Sheary. … Kuhnhackl’s defensive resume is solid, but there’s a baseline of offensive production that all NHL regulars, even fourth liners, have to hit. … He’s far from a finished product, but there were glimpses of hard-nose brilliance from Aston-Reese as a rookie. … Simon deservedly will take heat for not scoring when on the top line in the playoffs, but his 200-foot game is pretty good.
ON THE VERGE
Height, weight: 6-0, 174. Age: 23
Thomas Di Pauli
Height, weight: 5-11, 188. Age: 24
Height, weight: 6-2, 199.Age: 27
Johnson, the darling of last year’s development camp, and Di Pauli, who has battled injuries the past two seasons, haven’t exactly been tearing up the AHL. They’re “on the verge” because they’re both excellent skaters.
DOWN THE ROAD
Height, weight: 5-10, 195. Age: 19
Height, weight: 6-0, 197. Age: 21
Height, weight: 6-1, 198. Age: 20
Height, weight: 6-0, 192. Age: 23
Daniel Sprong aside, Bellerive might be the Penguins prospect with the highest upside. The sniper had 46 goals in juniors as an 18-year-old last season. … Because he did it at age 20, Miletic’s 36-goal season in juniors in a little less impressive. He’s still a solid power-forward prospect. … Bjorkqvist, a Finn with some bite to his game, had a breakout year at Providence College.
THE BIG MOVE
If general manager Jim Rutherford wants salary cap space for any reason, from exploring free agency to making other trades, Sheary’s $3 million paycheck and Hagelin’s $4 million wage have neon arrows pointing at them. Such moves shouldn’t be undertaken lightly, of course. Both players have been key contributors to championship teams.
THE SMALL MOVE
With Simon and Aston-Reese on the rise, Kuhnhackl’s fourth-line job probably isn’t as secure as it was a year ago. He will have to battle to avoid the waiver wire.