The Penguins continued offseason chores on Tuesday, signing three of their young restricted free agents for 2018-19. It’s a bit of a formality at this point but nice and important for depth (and Wilkes-Barre) to have them in the team’s back pocket.
Former 2012 second round pick Teddy Blueger would be the one to watch. Blueger, who turns 24-years-old next month, is getting a bit long in the tooth as an unestablished prospect, but he is making some strides. Last season, in his second full professional year, Blueger set personal career highs in the AHL with 21 goals and 45 points — respectable numbers to be sure.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has taken note as well, proclaiming last month that he thought Blueger is now “capable of being a fourth line (NHL) center, he’s at that point.”
In 2017-18, Blueger was called up once to the NHL from February 8th-19th, but did not appear in any games. He was behind Jean-Sebastien Dea, also 24, in the organization’s pecking order for call-ups, with Dea making five NHL appearances last season. Dea is also back for 2018-19, so it remains to be seen how that battle will play out. Dea has been more productive at the AHL level than Blueger over the years.
Personally, it’s a shame for Blueger (and Dea too) that Pittsburgh has fixed their center issue. Last September, Dea was given a long audition by being in the lineup for the team’s first four preseason games. He was ultimately cut, as Greg McKegg beat him for a spot in the opening day lineup.
Since then, the Penguins have traded for Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan, plus the team has signed Matt Cullen, who still has center capability as well (at least, they hope). The numbers are a lot more unforgiving for Blueger head into 2018’s training camp. Pittsburgh already has 13 forwards already under contract and virtually locked into NHL spots, and the Penguins typically carry 13 healthy forwards as it is. Last year Pittsburgh was searching high and low for centers. This year, unfortunately timing-wise for Blueger, they already have five centers locked in and ready to roll.
The player’s bad timing though is a positive for the organization. With Blueger, Dea, and free-agent signing Jimmy Hayes all in the fold, Pittsburgh can feel pretty comfortable with its 14th through 16th spots on the team’s depth chart. They’ll certainly have a few solid forward options in case of injury replacements from Wilkes-Barre next season.
One last interesting note: with the three players above re-signed, the only restricted free agent player left in the Penguins’ organization this summer is goalie Tristan Jarry.