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Phil Kessel trade: Looking at what the Pens got in Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph

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Profiles on the Penguins’ newest assets that they got from Arizona in exchange for Phil Kessel

Arizona Coyotes v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With the bombshell news dropping on a Saturday night that Phil Kessel is Arizona bound, our attention with the Penguins’ perspective about the return.

Pittsburgh is getting back forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph. The Pens also gave up a fourth round pick, and defenseman prospect Dane Birks (who really isn’t much of a prospect at all, and likely just included to balance the number of contracts changing hands).

Let’s dive into each player coming back to Pittsburgh a bit to see what this means.

Alex Galchenyuk

This is the key piece of the deal. Galchenyuk is a slick and skilled forward who can play center but seems best adept to work out in the NHL on the wing, namely the left wing. That’s a good thing for Pittsburgh, considering their depth on the left side beyond Jake Guentzel has been very lacking since the decline and departures of Chris Kunitz and Carl Hagelin over the years.

As we crudely highlighted in yellow, Galchenyuk tended to get more ice time and play better in the second halves of seasons in Montreal. He had one year in Arizona which is probably better forgotten by all parties as quickly as possible.

Here’s what our SBN sister blog Five For Howling said:

The Coyotes acquired Galchenyuk from the Montreal Canadiens last offseason for Max Domi. Galchenyuk would miss the start of the season with an injury and didn’t seem to live up Arizona’s expectations. He started the season at center before being moved to wing, and despite being advertised as a goal-scorer he tallied only 19 goals. Galchenyuk seemed poised for a rebound season, but the Coyotes seem to want a player with a better track record.

The Pens will really need Galchenyuk to revert back to where he was a couple of seasons ago:

Galchenyuk scoring 24 5v5 goals in the last three seasons is not very encouraging. If you’re thinking, “well Phil didn’t really seem that productive either last year at even” here’s his chart:

The Pens just traded 84 5v5 points in the last two seasons for 42 5v5 points in the last two.

Power play it gets worse, Kessel has recorded 46 and 34 PPP in the last two seasons. Galchenyuk 24 and 21. (Both those marks are by far career-highs too).

Add it all together, and it’s not really a pretty picture. The Pens took a big time talent and production downgrade by shipping out Kessel for Galchenyuk no matter how you try to slice it.

Galchenyuk’s even strength points/60 has bounced around, but not been good these past two seasons.

Phil, on the other hand has been solidly above 2 P/60 with this time in Pittsburgh, and really the consistency is the impressive thing. A normal player like Galchenyuk might yo-yo from 1.7 to 2.1 to 1.7 again. A star like Kessel will solidly be above 2 each of the last three seasons, that’s the type of production that you can set your watch to and means a lot.

But, that isn’t the only part of this deal. Pittsburgh got another piece involved for shipping out Kessel.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph

Joseph is a lanky defensive defenseman drafted 23rd overall in 2017. I had heard previously that Pittsburgh fancied him in that draft — which you might remember the Pens had the 30th overall pick but while on the clock traded it for Ryan Reaves and to move down to 51st overall and draft another defensive defenseman in Zachary Lauzon.

Unlike Lauzon though, Joseph has stayed healthy and seen his career generally trend upwards.

However, at 6’2 and listed around 165 pounds, the soon-to-be 20 year old Joseph is not really close to NHL ready because of one obvious and major reason. He needs to add on strength and weight.

Take this article from last year that still seems to apply:

“We had a running joke that every time we did a video meeting he’d have three or four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in his hand,” Islanders coach and general manager Jim Hulton said. “Every time I looked, this kid was eating. As my mid-life approaches, I’m thinking, ‘jeez, that would be a nice problem to have.’”

The net gain of all that gorging?

“I’ll say two pounds,” Joseph said, laughing. “It’s not big, but I’ll take it.”

The 6-foot-2 defenseman weighed in at Coyotes development camp on Monday at a robust 168 pounds. Fortunately for Joseph, he won’t turn 19 until July 1. With his path certain to include another year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Coyotes are content to let time take its course with his body.

“That’s the missing piece but that’s the piece we think we can address,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. “We’re going to be patient with him. The physical side needs to continue to come. He’s here working every day so that’s up to him and it will take as long as it takes, but once he’s physically developed, we see a high upside for him.”

So does Hulton. When the Islanders began the 2017-18 season, most predictions had them finishing near the bottom of the QMJHL. They had lost a ton of players and they were young and inexperienced.

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Hulton saw progress in other areas.

“The most obvious thing was his shot, which became a valuable weapon,” he said. “He’s still growing into his offense. I think there’s another layer he can add, but we saw a new dimension this year in terms of him joining the rush and being way more confident coming from behind. That’s what gets everybody excited is his ability to read the play and join the rush because that’s the modern-day defenseman.

“Defensively, he’s got a really good stick and good hockey sense and positioning. The one thing he brought home from pro camp is the importance of stick positioning. It was an example we used a lot with our younger defensemen. He can’t engage in a ton of physical battles until he has more strength and with the minutes he plays at our level, but by being smart he can make up for that.”

I don’t think that should be a negative, Joseph appears to have a chance to be a 4/5/6 style NHL defenseman. Maybe like a Marcus Pettersson type. But for what it’s worth (and it’s worth a lot) Joseph is also three years younger than Pettersson who just had his NHL rookie season last year.

By all accounts, Joseph is a decent and promising prospect with a fairly low floor, but I wouldn’t expect him to be an NHL factor right off the bat. Perhaps he surprises and looks a lot better than anyone thinks as early as training camp this year, that could be possible. But, more than likely this is a player who will need at least a full season (or more) in Wilkes-Barre to develop his game and also add all-important strength to his frame. Naturally as most 19-year olds do.

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All in all, on the plus side the Pens no doubt have made a locker-room change they wanted to make by shipping out Kessel.

But, at the same time, they’ve also just as doubtlessly weakened their team by trading a very, very good offensive player for merely a good offensive player and a somewhat promising prospect but one likely not polished enough to help in the near-future.

It’s likely they could not have received a better return, but it’s also a trade they sought to make when they could have stood pat and kept the best player in the transaction. This move also frees up $1.9 million in salary cap space, which obviously a cap-limit team like the Pens will invest somewhere else, and likely in short order. That in itself isn’t enough to sign a great player, so we will wait to see what other concurrent moves take place.

The Pens were able to get younger, and a bit cheaper but at the price of dealing a star player for a former very high pick who really hasn’t consistently put it together. It’s not a move without risk, and one that could expedite their fall from contending if it fails and Galchenyuk (a free agent in 2020) skates away.

It’s difficult to find talent the level of a Phil Kessel, even if he is a perceived difficult issue for coaches and managers to deal with. Trading that type of player away for a “less than” return seems like a not-ideal situation.