After trading Phil Kessel for Alex Galchenyuk and a prospect, there’s an undeniable trend for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Much as Jim Rutherford re-tooled almost the whole roster from 2014 when he took over to just two years later in 2016 when they won the Stanley Cup.
Just look at the lineup of the Game 7 vs NYR in 2014, the last game of the Ray Shero/Dan Bylsma era:
Other than the three foundational stars of this Pens’ era (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang) only Olli Maatta and Chris Kunitz survived the next two years to play a role in the 2016 Cup run. Marc-Andre Fleury was on the team but served as backup, even he was functionally replaced by that point.
Now with the changes being made - like trading Kessel and Maatta this off-season, it looks like Rutherford is once again freshening up just about the entire core of the team around their big stars.
The biggest move to date, and likely the biggest move of this whole off-season for Pittsburgh was last night sending Kessel to the Coyotes for Alex Galchenyuk. While it shouldn’t be glossed over that this might not have been a wise move to make to end up on the short-end of the talent stick, let’s just note for now the unavoidable that the Pens subbed out a 32-year old for a 25-year old in the trade.
This is continuing trend we’ve seen from Rutherford over about the last year - an effort to go young. He subbed out Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan for Jared McCann (23-years old) and Nick Bjugstad (soon to be 27) earlier in the year. What started out this season as soon to be 31-year old Carl Hagelin ended up as 27-year old Erik Gudbranson.
Swapping Maatta (25) for Dominik Kahun (23) isn’t a massive difference in age, but certainly is in foot-speed and playing style and will help the Pens play a quicker game as well.
Pittsburgh has also seen some young player growth, though it hardly is comparably to the wave in 2016 that saw Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Matt Murray (and soon Jake Guentzel) develop into huge difference-making players. Still, they’ve had some development out of youngsters like Marcus Pettersson (23), Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese. Blueger looks in-line to replace Matt Cullen (42) as the team’s full time fourth line center starting next season.
At the start of the 2018-19 season, James Mirtle of The Athletic had Pittsburgh at an average age of 28.7, second oldest in the entire NHL. By a quick count (and adding in summer birthdays for players like Malkin and Crosby) and of the 20 players the Pens have under contract/RFA shape up to be 27.2 years old so far for 2019-20.
Considering they still have a bunch of players from 2018-19 that remain for 2019-20 that are a year older, that’s an astounding turnaround and youth movement to be on track to make the team a full year younger, despite a year going by.
Rutherford could always look to add a veteran to the mix, but there’s no doubt that overall in about the last six or seven months his efforts to freshen up the Pens have revolved about making the team much younger than what they became entering to 2018-19 season.