After officially trading Daniel Sprong to the Anaheim Ducks in a one-for-one deal that brought in Marcus Pettersson, a fellow young NHLer trying to carve out a permanent roster spot, general manager Jim Rutherford had an interesting note about the newly acquired Penguin in his post-trade media availability:
“I don’t want to put a timeframe on it, but in a year or two, we believe he can be a ‘Brian Dumoulin’ kind of player. And I’ll take a lot of those kinds of defensemen on my team.”
Most were sort of taken aback by this statement considering the blueline, in its current state, is lacking any sort of true spark besides Kris Letang’s consistent play this season. Many were hoping for a guy who could slot somewhere in the starting lineup straight away — not one that needs several years of development time down in the AHL like Dumoulin did. Frankly, if you thought Sprong was going to yield any more of a return than what the Penguins gained Monday afternoon with Pettersson, your hopes were soaring a bit too high given Sprong’s lack of NHL success.
Circling back to Rutherford’s mirror comparison of Pettersson to Dumoulin though, he has a pretty solid case backing his point in the form of a development path to potentially follow.
Dumoulin originally ended his collegiate career at Boston College when he signed his CBA-mandated $900,000 entry-level contract back on April 10, 2012 as a Hurricanes prospect. Later that summer, he was dealt to the Penguins as a piece in the Jordan Staal deal. Dumoulin then got assigned to the AHL with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to continue developing a few months later. Under his ELC, he began his professional career in the fall of 2012 and played every subsequent season up until 2015, where he then signed a one-way, two-year extension at a hit of $800,000 fully guaranteed at 24-years-old.
That contract, by the way, was masterfully, and conveniently managed two ways by Rutherford (who, as Carolina’s GM, traded him for Staal back in 2012 in the first place). Dumoulin loaded up on top-pairing minutes with Letang at an absolute bargain en route to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017. Him being a key player in those two Cup runs while still on a $800,000 annual value, post-ELC deal is a huge part of the Penguins’ success in those two seasons.
The age in which Dumoulin locked down that deal is what sings a similar song with the 22-year-old Pettersson. The Swedish defenseman is currently in the final year of his ELC and, in this upcoming summer, will basically be in the same exact boat Dumoulin was after the 2014-15 season. If Rutherford wants to, and if Pettersson shows real signs of promise, Rutherford can extend him at a steal just like he did with Dumoulin. Perks include Pettersson being a year ahead of young Dumoulin age and development-wise, and waivers-exempt (unlike Sprong) so he can be sent down to WBS if he needs more work — though Rutherford said he’d leave the decision to keep him in Pittsburgh up to Mike Sullivan.
Separate from the contract situation similarities, Pettersson shares a lot of physical traits with Dumoulin as well. Both are roughly 6-foot-4 with defensive-minded skill sets, a good hockey I.Q., and a long reach. Pettersson also boasts a puck-moving, playmaking style that can also assist with zone exists. With a bit of luck and patience, Pettersson just may follow in Dumoulin’s footsteps. He’ll need to bulk up, find his footing on American ice, improve his positioning, and gain a bit more consistency, but he has the foundation to be a surprising (and cheap!) name like Dumoulin was down the line.
Here’s what Rutherford told Josh Yohe of The Athletic:
“The best way I’d describe (Pettersson) is to say that he’s a defensive defenseman who happens to move the puck well and who has good mobility. He is still a rookie and he’s 22, and he’s already playing in the league. I think that tells you something about him. He’s continuing to learn and to develop. It’s important for us that, in the time being, we put him in the right situation to do just that. This year we’ve had different players playing on different sides and in areas that they aren’t always comfortable with. This will be important for his development that we are smart with him.”
When you break this move down to its bones, this was an incredibly smart trade by Rutherford, as the Penguins have next-to-no promising defensive prospects outside of Ethan Prow down on the farm right now. Conversely, they have a bountiful lot of early 20-year-old forwards like Teddy Blueger, Thomas Di Pauli, Anthony Angello, Sam Lafferty, and Jordy Bellerive over in the WHL. Sprong just ended up not panning out the way the organization had hoped.
Pettersson possesses that desperately-needed prospect depth on the blueline that could serve the Penguins immediately if desired. But he can also be utilized on a struggling WBS club as well.
The Penguins have been known of late for their defensemen redemption projects from Justin Schultz to Jamie Oleksiak. But Pettersson is a much younger age now than those players were when they were acquired. Because of that, the organization is undoubtedly hoping for a best case scenario that Pettersson can end up developing in a similar way as Dumoulin, as Rutherford eluded to on Monday night.