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What would have been the better Kessel return: Galchenyuk or Zucker?

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Which would have been better the Pens’ rejected trade or one that finally went through?

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Arizona Coyotes Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

In some ways it already feels like forever since the Pittsburgh Penguins traded Phil Kessel to the Arizona Coyotes, but it’s only been a few days since a turbulent chapter has closed.

The Pens ended up receiving forward Alex Galchenyuk and former 2017 first round pick defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph for Kessel and a 2021 fourth round pick.

However one traded that was bandied about for a while earlier in the summer — and agreed to by Pittsburgh and Minnesota — was Kessel to the Wild for Jason Zucker. The trade couldn’t be processed though, as Kessel has a 23-team no trade clause and declined to approve it.

But, now that the dust is settling a bit that brought on another idea — what would have been best for the Pens? Are they better off getting Galchenyuk (and Joseph) or would it have been in their best interests to have made the Zucker deal? It obviously wasn’t totally up to them and they had to take what they could get within the confines of Kessel’s no-trade clause, so it’s not like they had a choice in the matter.

Let’s peep some stats from 2018-19:

Zucker vs. Galchenyuk

Jason Zucker Stat Alex Galchenyuk
Jason Zucker Stat Alex Galchenyuk
53.04% Corsi For% 47.49%
55.17% ScorChances % 45.85%
21 Goals 19
42 Points 41
1.37 Points/60 1.26
2.06 Goals For/60 1.75
2.06 Goals Against/60 2.73
195 O-Zone Starts 213
135 D-Zone Starts 79

Based on this look, Zucker drives possession a lot better and is much more of a two-way player that is responsible defensively, can start in his own end but still suppress scoring chances against and help shift the play into the offensive zone.

Galchenyuk, well, he had a bad year in his single season in Arizona in a lot of regards. Ideally for him he gets back to his 2015-16 season with Montreal where he scored 1.09 Goals/60 (and 30 overall).

Then again, Zucker was also down in 2018-19, and his previous two years he had a G/60 of above 1 and a P/60 above 2. Galchenyuk only has one season of those metrics in his career.

There’s also youth to consider - Galchenyuk (25) is two years younger than Zucker (27). Despite that, Zucker has more cost certainty with four years remaining at a $5.5 million cap hit. Galchenyuk will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and who knows what his next contract may look like.

Offensively overall in the last four seasons Galchenyuk has scored 192 total points. Zucker is behind him with 176. Make it the last three seasons though (to account for Zucker’s breakout year in 2016-17) and JZ is up 153-136.

Overall, Jason Zucker is probably a “safer” player to acquire. He’s going to be a lot better without the puck, he’s going to be a positive possession player and he’s going to produce points at a respectable rate. Alex Galchenyuk is more of a wild-card. At his best he can produce like Zucker, but he’s not going to drive possession or be as well-rounded.

The edge would have to go to Zucker at this point, but the wild-card in the mix could be Pierre-Olivier Joseph. If the prospect can develop into an NHL caliber player, that changes the calculus of the return big time.

But, prospects can be funny things. In 2012 Brian Dumoulin was almost an after-thought in the Jordan Staal trade compared to the flash of getting the eight overall pick and a NHL caliber player in Brandon Sutter. Fast forward a few years and Dumoulin is by far the longest-lasting and best part of that trade for the Pens.

Then again, most thought and were hopeful that the prospect throw-in involved in the Ryan Whitney for Chris Kunitz deal would also tip the scales to Pittsburgh, much like now the hope becomes that Joseph can. However, back in 2009 it didn’t quite work out that way and Eric Tangradi didn’t become a factor at the NHL level.

Therefore it becomes difficult to pin a lot of hopes on a prospect, because it can work out awesomely, or it can bitterly disappoint. Obviously you can’t realisitically make an accurate call of what it’s going to be immediately after a trade.

Still, there’s the potential that by adding Joseph that the Kessel trade to Arizona turns out a lot better for Pittsburgh than simply a one-for-one deal with Minnesota. That is a good thing, because overall it looks like the Pens had to accept a lesser NHL asset from Arizona then they would have received from the Wild had contractual issues not prevented it.