When the Penguins acquired Jeff Carter last April, it seemed to be a curious move. Carter, 36, was considered fairly washed up. It had been years since he, or his team in Los Angeles had been relevant. Carter was mostly playing as a winger and he had only scored eight goals in 40 games with the Kings in 2020-21. He had a hefty $5.2 million contract, though LA generously retained 50% of it. What was the purpose of this add?
All questions went quickly out the window as “Big Jeff” established a Gary Roberts-sized urban legend in Pittsburgh. Carter came in, played almost exclusively center and couldn’t stop scoring goals. Carter tallied nine goals and 11 points in 14 games with the Penguins in the regular season, several of them with Evgeni Malkin out injured. Playoffs was much the same with four goals and five points in five games.
It’s tough to follow that kind of debut up for a veteran player, Carter shot over 24% with Pittsburgh, that’s a level that no one can sustain forever. But the Pens will be without both Malkin and Sidney Crosby due to injuries at the start of the season. Somehow they’ll need Jeff Carter to do it again. Maybe not expect another 13 goals in the next 20 games, but it sure wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Carter is ready for the challenge.
Carter on stepping up in the absence of Crosby and Malkin: "I'll do my part to kind of alleviate that pressure, but we're going to need it from everybody. It's going to be a big task for everybody, but I think we'll be fine."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) September 23, 2021
More from @JeffCarter_77: https://t.co/TWfE4nz6WR pic.twitter.com/vl771MXMFs
Spoken like a player six games away from 1,100 in his NHL career and two Stanley Cups under his belt.
“It’s an exciting team; you have a little bit of everything, honestly,” Carter said. “You have some top-end skill, some really good bottom-six forwards, some checking-line guys that can take care of some big minutes against some other teams’ top players. I think our team is kind of well-rounded, and we have some young guys coming in that can help fill some holes, so it should be an exciting year.”
It’s an upbeat way to approach the challenge of playing without two of the best in the world, but what’s done has been done so there’s no point for any other attitude for a player in Carter’s shoes.
“He’s just a veteran player. He’s been through it all,” Jake Guentzel said yesterday. “He’s been in the league for a long time and he’s seen a lot of experiences and opportunities. He’s a guy who we can lean on that’s been through a lot for us, and we’re just lucky to have a guy like that and know we can lean on him.”
Guentzel is likely to get a pretty good look at Carter at the start of the season, the two skated together on a line yesterday at Pittsburgh’s first scrimmage of training camp. It makes a lot of sense — Guentzel is the best point-producer left on the team, Carter is the healthiest remaining best offensive center on the roster.
But more good news is that Carter might not have to be the best offensive center on the team for long. Crosby has been skating on a daily basis and Ron Hextall indicated Crosby’s recovery is “going well” and Sid is tracking towards the minimum amount of time the team announced of six weeks from September 8th.
But that six weeks will include at least four games, but if we’ve learned anything from the Jeff Carter experience, it’s that the Pens will be in steady hands for a top line scoring threat.