Less than 24 hours after losing Brandon Tanev to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft and just days after shipping out Jared McCann to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall met with the media to discuss the recent happenings and where he sees the Penguins offseason going from here.
In his press conference, Hextall covered a variety of topics related to the team but didn’t reveal much in terms of his plans for the coming weeks with the NHL Draft and free agency looming. While Hextall did put a slight damper on the hopes the Penguins could make a big splash in the free agent market, he did give some insight into how the Penguins may replace the losses of McCann and Tanev this summer.
Ron Hextall on replacing Jared McCann/Brandon Tanev: "We do feel like we have enough candidates in-house that we feel like certainly we can fill a number of the spots. But we will look outside and see what we can find, whether it's through trades or free agency."— Taylor Haase (@TaylorHaasePGH) July 22, 2021
It’s no secret that the Penguins organizational depth is not great, they do have a few options floating around that could be called upon to play a sizeable role this coming season in place of guys like McCann and Tanev.
When comparing McCann and Tanev to what the Penguins have in the system as possible replacements, it becomes quite clear that one will be easier to replace from within than the other. While Tanev was great during his time in Pittsburgh, his production will be much easier to make up for from the system as compared to what McCann brought to the table.
Brandon Tanev, reportedly selected by SEA, is a speedy defensive bottom six forechecking forward. #SeaKraken pic.twitter.com/oekMNgTGY5— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 21, 2021
Tanev was of course a huge part of the Penguins buzzsaw fourth line alongside Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese that became a nightmare for opposing teams. Blueger is already guaranteed to return next season and it’s hard to imagine Aston-Reese not being brought back as well.
With two thirds of that line (likely) coming back, finding a proper fit to replace Tanev should help them be just as effective next season. Although Tanev brought some very good attributes to the lineup, there are more than a few guys in the system who could step into his now vacant role.
Many of the options available to the Penguins already have NHL experience, while a few are perhaps a little greener. Names like Sam Lafferty, Anthony Angello, and Drew O’Connor all have seen NHL action in the past and could very well be next in line for fourth line duties.
From a prospects perspective players like Samuel Poulin and the newly acquired Filip Hallander could be ready to make the NHL jump if things fall right for either of them. In fact, Hextall mentioned Hallander by name as someone who could make the NHL jump soooner rather than later.
Any way you cut it, when it comes to replacing Tanev, especially when looking at what his role was with the Penguins, the organization has a handful of pieces already under contract that Hextall can look at as a replacement before dipping his hand into the free agency pool.
As for replacing McCann, well that’s where Hextall may have to go outside the organization for help. While the Penguins do have many options to choose from to replace a guy like Tanev, the options are not there for a player like McCann.
Jared McCann, reportedly picked by SEA, is a very good two-way middle six forward who can play wing and centre. He's got a good shot and has produced very efficiently in the past few seasons. #SeaKraken pic.twitter.com/dHIfVviDIE— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 21, 2021
What McCann brought to the Penguins is not something that any of the names mentioned above have proven they can bring to the lineup like he did over the past few seasons. He was an extremely versatile player for the Penguins and was a crucial part in their success this past season in the absence of Evgeni Malkin.
No prospect in the organization, much less one ready to make the NHL jump at the moment, has the skill set of McCann and replacing that will be a vital component of Hextall’s offseason plans.
How Hextall plans on replacing the departing pieces in McCann and Tanev this offseason remains to be seen, but if he does plan on filling those slots through the system, it may be much easier said than done.