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Pens claim Mark Friedman on waivers. Ron Hextall takes first chance at reshaping the Pens

Will the Pens new general manager pick up a defenseman he drafted off waivers?

Philadelphia Flyers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

UPDATE: The Penguins have claimed defensemen Mark Friedman off of waivers from the Flyers. They were at 22 players yesterday, now up to 23 and are still under the limit, so no further roster moves are necessarily in-bound as of the moment.

Ron Hextall has now been on the job for the Penguins as their general manager for 15 days and has gone into an evaluation mode on his new roster. Today will be the most intriguing to him to make a roster move. A player he drafted back in the third round of 2014, defenseman Mark Friedman was put on waivers by the Flyers yesterday.

We’ll find out shortly after 12PM if any NHL teams want the 25-year old who has only gotten the opportunity to play 11 NHL games in his career.

The interesting point here is obviously the Hextall connection. He drafted Friedman. He was overseeing his development up through 2018 as the Flyers GM and likely has a lot of knowledge about him.

Friedman has made some strides, including this recap of his 2019-20 season when our pals at Broad Street Hockey had the following analysis of his season with AHL Lehigh Valley.

We expected to see him take a step forward, iron out some of the details that needed working on, and look more dominant in his third AHL season, and that’s what he did. We’ve likely shared this sentiment before, but it bears repeating that Friedman was pretty easily the Phantoms’ most consistent defenseman this season, and by a pretty comfortable margin. The defensive side of his game was sound, and his offensive contributions solid, in short, Friedman brought probably the most complete game of any member of the defense corps. No other defenseman posted positive relative shot metrics (CF%, SCF%, HDCF%), as well as a Controlled Exit% above 50 percent. That’s a lot of overall positive impact. So, while there may not have been one thing that he was positively dominant at, he proved to be solid in just about everything, and that’s really what the team needed from him.

Further, news of Friedman’s waiving has seemingly minorly annoyed the writers there since he still has a somewhat favorable perception compared to some of the other lower-end options on the defensive depth chart.

In that regard, this will be the first inflection point to see how Hextall wants to shape the Penguins and if he elects to step out now and grab a player he knows well.

To be sure, the last thing the Penguins need is a 6/7 type of defensemen. They are flush with them, and if they keep getting healthy they might have a tough decision to make about Juuso Riikola’s status on the roster.

Friedman also is on a one-way contract worth a friendly $725,000 for this season and next year. That is almost identical to what the Pens have with Chad Ruhwedel, who is signed at $700k this year and has a contract extension for $750k for next season. Both Friedman and Ruhwedel are right shot defensemen, basically in the same role.

Ruhwedel is much more of a known quantity with 182 NHL games under his belt, and has fit in fairly well with the Pens over the years. Ruhwedel has been with the Pens and Mike Sullivan for now going on five seasons. He’s a good fit for his role and has a lot of system familiarity built up.

But will that history matter to Hextall? Is he seeking new and different? Would he defer to keeping the veteran the coach and team knows in Ruhwedel, or is he inclined to give Friedman a chance and move on to a younger option in Friedman? That would likely push Ruhwedel to the trade block or waiver wire soon himself, since as mentioned, the Penguins are already flush with depth defensemen and now regaining health.

There’s a decent case to make for taking either path. The Pens could stick with Ruhwedel and go on without major impact. But with a new manager and a player he knows intimately in Friedman, it makes for an intriguing possibility.

Will Ron Hextall make his first move for the Pens to bring in something new, even on the lower end of the depth chart? He’s got the option to put in a claim and see if they are the highest team to get him. Whether or not he will go this route will be solved in a few hours here and be an interesting first sign if Hextall is content with the status quo or is going to look to take this opportunity that’s popped up to change the team.