A weekly tradition: pouring over Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts column and seeing if there are any Penguins’ notes and then holding them up to the light to see what they could mean.
Fortunately there’s a lot of good information in this week’s edition, so let’s dive on in.
8. The NHL is on notice: Sidney Crosby is back in Hart Trophy consideration. He won his second in 2014, and almost single-handedly willed the injury-ravaged Penguins to a 2–1 victory over previously unbeaten Anaheim last Thursday. That started a three-game win streak.
“We’re lucky enough to see it every day,” GM Jim Rutherford said last week. “In games, in practices, he always brings 100 per cent.”
Always nice to see Sid get some love and national recognition for a great start.
9. Head coach Mike Sullivan indicated Pittsburgh’s nine defencemen might have to get used to a rotation. Rutherford admitted there “wasn’t much” of a trade market for what he had out there.
“We might stay with what he have until everyone gets healthy — see where we are then.”
That last sentence to me really stands out. It’s not a surprise the Penguins can’t find takers for the dregs of their roster — the over-paid veterans like Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson who have been healthy scratch caliber players. Not much interest in them. It’s not like Rutherford is dangling Brian Dumoulin’s or Justin Schultz’s out there to get a deal done.
Patience will be key and the quotes make it appear that the organization is totally prepared to be patient. But sooner than later, a trade of a defenseman would have to happen.
It helps when you have a nuclear weapon like Crosby, and one man’s injury is another man’s opportunity. Among those who have stepped up: Sam Lafferty, who had five points in weekend wins over Minnesota and Winnipeg. A scouting friend had praise for the winger, taken 113th overall in 2014 out of NCAA Brown.
“I saw him at a rookie tournament (in 2018) and didn’t think he was going to be good enough,” he said. “The next thing I knew, he had 50 points in the AHL. Good on him — he worked hard to get better.”
The rise of Lafferty has been quite impressive. Summer 2018, prior to his full professional debut, Lafferty was only ranked 22nd in the Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25. It isn’t too frequent a player goes from the bottom of that list to making a significant impact in a short amount of time, if ever.
Lafferty’s 2018-19 season was a revelation though. 49 points was a solid rookie year in the AHL, good for third among AHL rookies across the league.
What really stood out was the words of Wilkes-Barre assistant coach Jarrod Skalde when said after a game that Lafferty was, “the best player on the ice for either team”. For me that just really left an impression, to go along with the reports that incrementally Lafferty was improving all season long.
The boost got Lafferty all the way up to 12th in the 2019 Pensburgh T25U25, sending him from far-fetched “name in the system” up to a real depth piece of the puzzle.
Then last week he got his NHL chance, and now the rest of being a fairly unknown player is becoming history.
10. Rutherford was not willing to give any timelines on Evgeni Malkin, but said the cornerstone did not undergo surgery. When I asked about the uncertain timelines soft-tissue injuries can present, he laughed and said, “That’s why we don’t give updates.”
Malkin was hurt on October 5th, already 11 days ago. But a quote like this makes it seem like it’s going to be a lot longer, or at least still very unknown as far as how long it will take his soft tissue injury to heal up.
Some reports and timelines make a 4-6ish week absence make a bit of sense, but one gets the feeling at this point things are a lot more “wait and see” than any hard and fast sort of timeline.
11. One thing the GM made clear: He is not interested in trading Pittsburgh’s 2020 first-rounder.
I feel like Rutherford says this a few times throughout the year, then usually does trade the pick. Stay tuned. The Pens of course did go on to hold their pick and select Sam Poulin last year, but keeping a 2020 first round pick probably means very little to the Crosby/Malkin window given typical prospect growth times (and the non-zero chance of drafting a bust).
That said, at this point Rutherford shouldn’t be thinking about trading the pick. There’s still a LOT of season left that could go in many directions, and he’s better off obviously holding that pick until the year unfolds to best understand the power of what he could potentially do with it more toward the deadline.
12. I do think Montreal — which has kept an eye on left-shot defenders — took a look at Juuso Riikola. (Rutherford was not the source on this one.
Given the emergence of John Marino, it would make sense to move Riikola. When is he going to play? (Well, perhaps tonight if Jared McCann can’t go). But that’s an extreme example, Riikola is about eighth on a depth chart of defenders and seems a superfluous piece at this point. If an NHL team needs a 6/7 role and tosses out like a fifth round pick or something, the Pens are probably best clearing the contract and moving on.