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Early reviews and first impressions on the Penguins’ new players

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a lot of new faces on the roster this season. Here are some early impressions on them.

Chicago Blackhawks v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

When Kyle Dubas was hired as the newest general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins he had quite a bit of work to do in an effort to get the team back to the playoffs after the team missed the postseason a year ago.

The result of that was a busy offseason that saw a significant portion of the roster get overhauled during the summer.

The 2023-24 NHL season is only six games old for the Penguins, but it has given us a first impression on some of the new faces.

Let’s take a look at some initial thoughts on the new faces.

Erik Karlsson

The overall numbers have not jumped off the page from a goal or point production standpoint, but he looks exactly like I imagined he would in a Penguins uniform. Especially when the Penguins really turn him loose and allow him to go all out offensively (like the third period in Detroit a couple of games ago). Eventually the points are going to come because he is too talented and is playing too well for that to not happen.

The Karlsson-Marcus Pettersson duo has been the Penguins’ best defensive pairing so far, outscoring teams by a 5-2 margin during 5-on-5 play and completely controlling the underlying possession numbers. And it is not like they are getting an overwhelming number of offensive zone starts, either (around 50 percent). They are simply playing great hockey together.

Ryan Graves

Graves was brought in to be the replacement for Brian Dumoulin on the Kris Letang pairing, and while I haven’t really noticed anything to make me form a strong opinion either way, the numbers with this pairing are not quite as promising as the Karlsson-Pettersson duo. I am also not going to overreact to that. Graves has a strong track record of playing next to high-end defenders, and I think sooner rather than later this duo is going to start seeing better results.

Reilly Smith

Smith has been by far the most impactful of the new forward additions and seems to be a perfect fit on the second line alongside Evgeni Malkin and Rickard Rakell. That line has been the Penguins’ best forward line all season, and the numbers support that eye test. I liked this move from the start and thought he was a perfect replacement for Jason Zucker. I could see a scenario this season that results in him scoring close to 30 goals, while his all-around game has also been impressive. Great fit and playing in the right role.

Lars Eller

I was always a huge fan of Eller’s game going back to his Washington days and thought he was an ideal third-line center. Excellent defensively, enough offense to make a difference in a depth role and just a solid all-around player.

The Penguins are trying him as their new third-line center, and of all the bottom-six additions Dubas made this summer this is the one I had the most hope for.

Even if Eller is no longer the player he was at his peak in Washington, I still think he has something to offer with the right players around him. The question is whether or not the Penguins have that.

Despite getting extremely heavy defensive zone starts he is still on the plus-side of shot attempts, scoring chances, expected goals and actual goals through the first six games. He has been, for me, one of the few bright spots in the bottom-six this season.

Noel Acciari

Acciari seems to be a favorite of Dubas and got a three-year, $6 million contract to join the Penguins. This is one I had no real read on when it happened because he just seemed like a pretty run-of-the-mill fourth-line option.

Pretty good defensively, had shown some ability to score double-digit goals at various times in his career, but not really anybody that was going to move the needle in a meaningful direction.

That is exactly what he has been.

The entire theme of the Penguins’ plan with the bottom-six this season seemed to be loading up on defensively-minded forwards whether they had any offensive upside or not.

So far, they have not provided any offense at all.

As a fourth-line option I don’t think Acciari is a problem in a vacuum. But when your entire bottom-six is comprised of players just like him, and when you have him signed for a multi-year deal, he just seems .... redundant.

Matt Nieto

Probably the least exciting and least impactful of the new additions. I feel like in a few years we are going to be looking back at his name on the Penguins roster on hockey-reference and ask, “when did that guy play for the Penguins?

Alex Nedeljkovic

He had a great debut start against the Calgary Flames and was halfway through a second great start against the Dallas Stars until he made that terrible decision to charge out of the night and try to play a loose puck, leaving the net wide open for the Stars to take a 3-1 lead in the third period. Then he ended up getting injured. He had a great rookie year in Carolina, struggled in his first season with Detroit, and then only played 15 games a year ago. The jury is still very much out on him as an NHL goalie.