Today is the deadline for NHL teams getting their qualifying offers out to impending restricted free agents. The Penguins have announced that they have qualified Zach Aston-Reese and Radim Zohorna and opted to not qualify four others, making them unrestricted free agents on Wednesday.
The Penguins have extended qualifying offers to restricted free agent forwards Zach Aston-Reese and Radim Zohorna.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) July 26, 2021
Forwards Mark Jankowski and Sam Miletic, defenseman Jesper Lindgren, and goaltender Emil Larmi will not receive qualifying offers and will become UFAs on July 28. pic.twitter.com/GBjJRnk4ml
There are no surprises above, Aston-Reese has an Evolving Hockey projected contract of $2.1 million annually for three years, and the Pens now have plenty of room to sign him for that kind of deal with the departures of Jared McCann and Brandon Tanev.
Zohorna flashed some intriguing talent and pretty decent skating ability for a 6’6” young player last season when he scored four points (2G+2A) in eight games at the NHL level, as well as 11 points (3G+8A) in 12 games with AHL Wilkes-Barre. That was enough for Pittsburgh to want to see more of, and Zohorna should certainly be in competition with players like Sam Lafferty, Anthony Angello and Drew O’Connor for the 12th or 13th (or maybe 14th) spot in the roster next season.
The four players the Pens are cutting ties with are the logical conclusions as well. Larmi has already signed with a Finnish team for next season after a couple of tough seasons in the Pens’ organization.
Lindgren never played in the organization, his rights coming over in the 2020 Kasperi Kapanen trade made by previous general manager Jim Rutherford, and moving forward Ron Hextall didn’t feel the need to keep the 24-year old defender in the organization.
Miletic, 24, signed with Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent and put himself on the radar with a 35 point in 49 game performance in 2018-19 with Wilkes. His statistics have regressed from that high note, however, with the forward scoring just five points in 21 games in the AHL last season.
Jankowski was brought over as a high-profile redemption pick since he was a former first round pick and added size, but unfortunately it just didn’t work out on the ice. By the time the team got healthy for the playoffs, Jankowski was long since an afterthought and healthy scratch, and would have played even less had the Pens not been so injured throughout the season. On a one year deal and given his young age, it still was a pretty decent gamble to take, but became evident pretty quickly that Jankowski wasn’t going to succeed at the NHL level.
The Pens will move ahead and keep the rights to Aston-Reese and Zohorna. Both have rights to elect for salary arbitration, which usually tends to accelerate the process of getting a contract in hand. We’ll see over the summer how those moves play out, but we now know the official direction Pittsburgh is taking with their RFA players.