The Penguins were on the ice again on Monday to get ready for a back-to-back in the next two games with the team mired in a losing streak. Lars Eller wasn’t at practice today, here was the alignment.
#Pens lines (No Lars Eller):— Wes Crosby (@OtherNHLCrosby) December 11, 2023
The Penguins are a banged up bunch up front, other than Eller four other forwards were also absent (Bryan Rust, Rickard Rakell, Matt Nieto, Noel Acciari). Tryout forward Jesse Puljujarvi was also not on the ice.
As of yesterday, Rust has been “under evaluation” for an injury suffered last week. Anything that takes almost a week to evaluate can’t be considered a positive signal, and the update today from coach Mike Sullivan confirmed it’s going to be a while before Rust is back in the lineup.
Mike Sullivan said Bryan Rust is going to be week-to-week with an upper-body injury at this point.— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) December 11, 2023
Lars Eller wasn't feeling well today, so they chose to leave him at home, and don't anticipate that getting in the way moving forward.
Rakell is approaching the window where he is allowed to be activated off long-term injured reserve, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like his timeline to return will be to the soonest possible game. That’s a big blow to the team’s talent level in the wake of Rust recently joining him on the shelf.
Without Rust or Rakell, the Pens’ need for a scoring-line right winger is sky high. Alex Nylander didn’t offer much in his quick cameo this season, so the team has turned to see what Valtteri Puustinen can offer. Puustinen recorded a secondary assist in his first game and now is looking at a big opportunity on the top power play.
PP1) Karlsson, Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, Puustinen.— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) December 11, 2023
PP2) Letang, Smith, Carter, Harkins, Hinostroza.
It has been a month since the Penguins scored a power play goal. With all the injuries, the bottom of their lineup is decimated and littered with replacement level players.
One player who will be available is Jakub Vrana, the St. Louis Blues are expected to waive the skilled forward with a $2.6 million cap hit. That cap hit borders on being restrictive enough to the Penguins to pass, but a look under the hood at how Vrana is playing these days makes the decision even easier to realize that he would not be the answer to the team’s problems.
Was surprised to see Jakub Vrana on waivers — then I wasn't! wooooooooof pic.twitter.com/CijOGD2aJI— dom (@domluszczyszyn) December 11, 2023
I don't think that I would claim Jakub Vrána from waivers. pic.twitter.com/e9rLDhtmLv— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) December 11, 2023
Jakub Vrana will be placed on waivers. He's still a speedy scoring winger who creates off the rush, but when that's the one thing you do and the shots aren't going in that's a much tougher sell. #STLBlues pic.twitter.com/q8rr1o5ZtJ— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) December 11, 2023
Vrana is the type of player (much like his St. Louis teammate Kasperi Kapanen) who has some real offensive ability, but ends up giving it all back - and then some - with ineffective defensive play. Had the Pens been dealing with a situation where either Rust and/or Rakell had season-ending injuries or at least were due to miss months and months, perhaps they could be so desperate as to roll the dice on grabbing Vrana off the wire. As it stands now, he doesn’t fit to the team’s salary structure whenever they do get healthy, and his style of play would stick out negatively and likely zap the defensive results the lower lines have been getting.
The answer might be out there to incrementally help the team (Jesse Puljujarvi), but it won’t be Jakub Vrana.