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PTO Season: Any options for the Pens still out there?

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The Penguins need a center, are any tryouts a possibility?

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not secret the Penguins need more centers. It’s also no secret that, sooner or later that general manager Jim Rutherford will be making a trade because he’s said it’s coming.

That’s probably going to be for a 3rd line center to replace Nick Bonino, who departed for Nashville on a $4.1 million contract for four years (woof!)

Pittsburgh got another blow when Matt Cullen chose not to return to the Pens for this season for their 4th line center. Carter Rowney is center capable, but has 27 career NHL regular season games. Other younger options include J-S Dea, Teddy Blueger and Greg McKegg. None of these names hold a lot of promise, considering they have limited to no NHL experience or success.

Could the free agent market be the key? SBN NHL looked at veterans that are still on the market this deep into summer.

PTOs allow teams to bring in veteran players for training camp and preseason without any commitment to them. It’s a good way for teams to get a look at some extra options to fill out roles at the bottom of their rosters. Maybe a team just wants some additional competition in camp to push a younger player. The point is, you can sign someone to a PTO, and get rid of them with no penalty by October if things aren’t working out. For veteran players, PTOs can represent one last chance at sticking in the NHL. These are players who teams deemed weren’t good enough to receive contract offers with the guaranteed money and risk that comes with them. But if the alternative is a zero-risk PTO that can be turned into a one-year deal if things work out, suddenly a player will garner a lot more interest

Forwards: Drew Stafford, Thomas Vanek, P.A. Pareanteau, Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan, Brian Gionta, Daniel Winnik, Mike Ribeiro, Alex Chiasson, Lauri Korpikoski, Scottie Upshall, Rene Bourque, Ryan White, Jiri Hudler, Chris Kelly, Jack Skille, Jay McClement, Jimmy Hayes, Vernon Fiddler, Teddy Purcell, Milan Michalek, Andrew Desjardins, Tanner Glass, Harry Zolnierczyk, Matt Hendricks, John Mitchell, Spencer Abbott

The Pens have used a lot of PTO’s recently. Like in 2015 they gave Daniel Carcillo and Sergei Gonchar a tryout (remember that??). In 2016 goalie Leland Irving was brought in. Often times, obviously, these guys fizzle out and the team moves on. But not always - Mark Eaton was a PTO once upon a time, and he made an NHL impact.

Looking at this year’s crop, a lot of these forwards aren’t centers, and the Pens don’t really need wingers but names like Stafford, Vanek, Hudler and Parenteau do look a little appealing, as all have been productive players in recent years.

Anyways, back on topic, are there any centers that could help?

  • McClement fits the bill as a center, but showed last year in Carolina that he isn’t NHL caliber any longer and at this point isn’t of much use to take up space even in a tryout
  • Ditto Vern Fiddler now at age 37. Not an option for 2017-18.
  • Mike Ribeiro, now 37, is almost a Matt Cullen type- in that both were top-6 players but have aged-out of that role. However, the similarities stop there. Ribeiro has substance abuse problems and suffered an alcohol relapse last season, putting his availability for the NHL now in question. Beyond that, he’s got a checkered history legally and doesn’t appear to be the “clean cut family man, locker room positive influence” that a sterling gentleman like Cullen was. If it was only about numbers and ability, Riberio might be appealing. But his off-ice baggage and demons make him an easy steer-clear at this point.
  • Chris Kelly is 36-years old and doesn’t seem to have a lot in the tank (5 goals + 8 assists in 82 games last season in Ottawa) but he has been a solid lower line player throughout his career. Kelly seems for the perfect 4C/PK, reliable type of player who isn’t going to offer a ton, but will compete and get after a defensive role. This long in the tooth, though, it remains to be seen if he actually would still be able to contribute.
  • Andrew Desjardins (0g+1a in 46 games) was even worse in point production, but he’s only 31 and has showed flashes in the past of being a good 4th line center - winning the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2015 in such a role and also recently having a decent year in 2015-16 with the Blackhawks (8g+5a).
  • Ryan White’s even younger (29) and last year put up a total of 9 goals and 7 assists, in time split between Arizona and Minnesota. White played more on the wing last season, but has been a center in Montreal and in Philly as recently as 2016.

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There are no all-stars still available these days. Except maybe Jaromir Jagr, but that’s a different story. Anyways, the Penguins might have an opportunity to utilize the PTO market because they don’t have any proven lower line centers, and there are a few candidates out there who will be desperate to earn a job.

Any of Kelly, Desjardins or White seem like a decent camp invite, if only to measure against a guy like Rowney and see if the team can add any depth, for cheap, with no risk if it’s determined they don’t have enough to contribute.

This idea should be irregardless of the future trade to deal with slotting a player in the 3rd line role, but if the team elects to start Rowney on the 3rd line, it seems to reason all the more to bring in a veteran to see if depth can be added (and always waived later on).