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Unqualified free agents could make for qualified successes for the Pittsburgh Penguins

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The free agent market will be very interesting on Friday with players like Vinnie Hinostroza

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL draft starts tonight, but for the Pittsburgh Penguins (who don’t pick until 77th overall) the focus is more on Friday and free agency. The Pens don’t have a ton of money or space, but still could probably use adding a decent forward and a right shot defenseman, if possible.

Fortunately for them, the salary cap remaining the same as last year will make for a lot more supply of players on the free agent market in the form of teams not being able or willing to send qualifying offers out. A lack of a QO turns an impending restricted free agent into an unrestricted free agent.

One very interesting name who falls into this category will be Vinnie Hinostroza, formerly of the Arizona Coyotes (and Chicago Blackhawks prior to that).

Hinostroza, 26, did struggle to produce offense last year in Arizona (but who didn’t, right) with only 5 goals and 17 assists in 68 games. However, in 2018-19, Hinostroza put up 16G+23A in 72 games for a much more respectable looking boxcar stat line.

Hinostroza has the speed teams like and has shown an increasing level of defensive and 200-foot ability, making him a very solid option for the bottom-six. He averaged just 0:47 per game on the penalty kill last year, which didn’t make him a heavily used PK’er, but one who could perhaps grow into that role further with time.

Though sometimes listed as a center, Hinostroza has played almost exclusively as a winger in the past two seasons, and projects to be an option there more so than the solution to the Pens’ third line center issue.

But right now, who is the Pens’ third line? With Zach Aston-Reese on the shelf with injury, the answer might be a Jared McCann - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev trio, or maybe McCann, Tanev and Colton Sceviour. No matter how you shake it, with the current personnel it’s not going to cut it.

Adding a player like Hinostroza to go along with McCann creates a much more formidable all-around ability and talent level to build a third line around.

Another unqualified player who certainly would fit in with Pittsburgh? Look no further than a player they know really well, Dominik Simon!

The Pens didn’t give Simon a qualifying offer, and it wasn’t because they didn’t like him, but because they couldn’t control his salary. Simon would have had arbitration rights and with Pittsburgh so close to the cap limit, they couldn’t risk what the award might have been.

“But, wait a minute,” you might be thinking at this point. “We all know Simon doesn’t scoar, how could he break the budget?”

Well, dear reader, that is why players love the arbitration process. Last year Evan Rodrigues (remember him?) got a $2.0 million award handed down coming off a 9G+29 point season in 2018-19. Winnipeg’s Andrew Copp received a two-year $2.28 AAV contract after an 11G+25 point season. Both of those players have center capabilities and perhaps a bit more value, but the possession and playmaking stats Simon has shown could have made the arbitration process one where he came out at/around the $2 million mark salary-wise.

“No way, that’s untenable!” you’re thinking. And you’re right, which is why Simon wasn’t issued a qualifying offer.

But now, as an unrestricted free agent, he can discuss any salary amount with any team, including the Pens. Would Simon come back for a fraction of that? Probably depends what his offers were, but at this point it’s worth both the player and the team at least keeping the door open to the possibilities of seeing what happens in the free agent frenzy.

Another player who will be out there? Michael Grabner, who was bought out by Arizona. Grabner is a player who catches Pens’ fans eyes, because he is really good against Pittsburgh. Grabner has scored 12 career goals against the Pens, more than he has against any other NHL team.

He’s also a fast skater, and that’s always fun. However Grabner, now 33, is kinda like Carl Hagelin in that he’s “very fast but block hands that isn’t very efficient”. And we’re not talking 2016 fun Carl Hagelin, but like 2018 three points in 16 games while on Evgeni Malkin’s line Carl Hagelin.

Out of those mentioned here, Grabner is the player to avoid. Your memory that says he scores a lot is correct, but it’s only against the Penguins. That magic doesn’t hold up consistently, and he’s now an older player whose best playing days are in the rear-view mirror.

But in the shuffle through the scraps of players bought out or unqualified, a team like the Pens could mine for gold if they’re able to bring in a player like Hinostroza.