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Penguins’ bottom-six could use a shot in the arm

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Ideas on what the Penguins can do to improve their forwards

NHL: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins look caught in a bit of a rut lately, losing three straight games. The bottom-six has been particularly troublesome, as they’re failing to score and are also getting pinned in the defensive zone more often than not.

In fact, of the 13 forwards on the roster right now, seven of them have one goal or no goals at all through 12 games. (Matt Cullen, Riley Sheahan, Bryan Rust, Carl Hagelin, Derick Brassard, Daniel Sprong, Derek Grant). That’s basically the entire bottom-six.

The options at this point include just letting it ride and hoping things turn around naturally. At this point in the season, it’s early and conventional wisdom says players like Rust, Brassard, and Sprong have a lot of talent and that should come through sooner or later.

A trade could always be an option with an active general manager like Jim Rutherford, but patience is probably in play right now. After all, in the next three games, the mercurial Pens could win them all and look just fine.

One other, smaller stakes attempt to shake things up could be adding a young player from the minor leagues or on the waiver wire. Pittsburgh is only carrying 12 healthy forwards right now, so there’s certainly roster room to give someone new a chance, perhaps at the expense of a Grant or Sprong healthy scratch.

An interesting name came across the waiver wire today:

24-year-old Nathan Walker is an intriguing name for the Penguins to consider. Will they? I don’t know. But Walker, a small left winger, could add an element that Pittsburgh doesn’t have right now. They don’t have many young players with high motors and a lot of speed. Walker is a hungry player. The Pens don’t have a lot of that right now, and it seems to be very evident watching their bottom-six — especially the fourth line. They look very uncomfortable, very stagnant. It hasn’t made for good results.

Walker is never going to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. He doesn’t have much NHL experience. Hell, he probably won’t hit double digits. But for a team that needs a shot in the arm of some energy and a hungry player? He could provide that in small doses.

Walker may be a bit familiar to Pens fans for playing in Game 6 of the Pens/Capitals series in 2018, making a nice play to skate past Brassard and around the net to set up Alex Chiasson for a goal. It perfectly demonstrated the speed and simple-but-effective play he can provide.

Walker probably isn’t a “must claim” type of player, but it’s an interesting name in the sense he could offer something the Penguins could use. Of course, lots of teams could use it, Walker was claimed off waivers last year by the Edmonton Oilers. They only gave him a two-game audition before waiving him themselves, and Washington was quick to re-claim.

If an external option like Walker isn’t in the cards, perhaps Pittsburgh should consider a player from its own minor leagues. Zach Aston-Reese is a player the coaches have liked a lot in the past. He off to a somewhat slow training camp and AHL start to the season, so they may want him to get into a better form. Adam Johnson was another player who flashed positivity at times in camp and offers some plus-speed himself. Johnson (two goals, three assists in 10 AHL games) has modestly improved his offensive stats down on the farm as well.

This early in the year, the Pens may just opt to leave things alone and hope Brassard’s eventual return from injury will be the most meaningful and key addition to the team. And indeed that would be the best player to add. But Brassard didn’t practice with the team, and even though he is technically “day-to-day,” it’s been many days and not much progress.

So as it stands, given a lack of scoring, a lack of energy, and a lot of spending time in the defensive zone, the Pens bottom-six sure looks like it could use a shot in the arm a dozen games in.