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Penguins weekly stock report: The beginning of the Jason Zucker era

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Taking a look at the trending players for the Pittsburgh Penguins over the past week.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

There may have only been two games for the Pittsburgh Penguins this past week but it was still very eventful.

They collected three out of four points in the standings.

They acquired a new winger, Jason Zucker, in a blockbuster trade with the Minnesota Wild. You know they probably have at least one more trade to be made over the next week.

Dominik Kahun is back on the ice and skating.

They also have to deal with another major injury due to John Marino being sidelined.

We take a look at all of that and more in this week’s edition of the Penguins’ Weekly Stock Update.

Who Is Up

Jim Rutherford. We all knew he was going to do something. He had to do something. There was a need for a very specific type of player, there was salary cap space to work with, and he is always going to be active ahead of the trade deadline in every season. He eventually acquired the player he has been trying to get for more than two years. Getting Jason Zucker from the Minnesota Wild looks like a strong move right now as it adds another top-six winger — with term on his contract! — to the lineup, while also being a good fit for the team’s style of play. We can never know for sure how moves like this will work out until the player actually spends a significant amount of time on the team, but my initial knee-jerk reaction is two thumbs up. Not only for the fit, but also for the trade itself. It is not an overpay. It is good value for a 20-goal, 50-point winger that is signed for three more full seasons after this one at a market contract. Rutherford continues what has been a strong calendar year of dealing going back to the Jared McCann-Nick Bjugstad trade during the 2018-19 season.

The Sidney Crosby-Jason Zucker-Dominik Simon line. This line did not start Tuesday’s game against Tampa Bay, but it did finish the game. Simon replaced Patric Hornqvist on this line for the third period and to the surprise of no one one looked dramatically better than it did with Hornqvist in that third spot on the line. It did not result in a goal, but they instantly looked more dangerous, more effective and saw a boost in their ability to create chances. There is still going to be that segment of the fanbase that does not like Simon in this spot, but the reality is he still fits better than Hornqvist at this point.

Juuso Riikola. He does not play a lot, so perhaps this is just a usage thing and being put into the right minutes, but Riikola has been playing really well over his past few appearances. In the Penguins’ past 10 games Riikola has the best Corsi percentage, expected goal differential, and scoring chance differential. It is probably the best hockey he has played in a Penguins uniform to this point.

Matt Murray. You could probably still include Tristan Jarry in this, too, but Murray is really starting to get back on track right around the same time he did a year ago. He has a .924 save percentage since January 1 over seven appearances, and was outstanding against Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Maybe he could have stopped the overtime goal if you want to get into that, but I am not sure he was one of the top two culprits on that play. He is also a big reason they even made it to overtime to get the point with the way he played earlier in the game, and especially in the first period.

Who Is Not

Patric Hornqvist on Sidney Crosby’s line. I am not totally ready to give up on Hornqvist. I still think he can provide something. Everyone still loves him unless they have to play against him. But I just do not like this combination. It does not work. Hornqvist can still cause havoc around the net and bring energy and be a vocal and emotional leader but when it comes time to making a play with the puck in space or making a skilled play it just does not seem to work for him.

Allowing a breakaway with five seconds to play in a one-goal game. There really is not anything else to say here except “what the hell, guys?” Try not to do that in the future.

The defense without John Marino. Marino has been one of the most impactful and important players on this year’s Penguins team. His presence has helped completely transform the entire defense, and he has not only been one of the league’s best rookie defensemen, he has made one of the biggest defensive impacts in the league among all players regardless of experience or the position they play. The three-to-six week timeline is not as bad as it could have been, but it still stinks, especially with Brian Dumoulin still sidelined. That is literally two of your best defensive players out of the lineup, which really puts your depth to the test. I still have not liked what I have seen from Justin Schultz since his return, which only adds to the issues.

Alex Galchneyuk’s Penguins tenure. We just need to write one more blurb on him to wrap up his time with the team. He always seemed to be a short-term option, but I don’t know that anyone expected things to go as poorly as they did for him here. It is unfortunate, too, because he really did put in the effort and work only to get none of the results. That is the frustrating thing. It would be easier to accept his disappointing play here if there was a tangible thing to point to as to why he failed. But there is not. He is still a skilled player, he is still in what should be his prime years, and he worked his ass off every day. It just did not work. Sometimes, for no reason in particular, a team and a player are not a fit and it is not anyone’s fault or the result of anyone doing anything wrong. Sometimes it just does not work. That is what happened here.