Much of the attention from Kyle Dubas’ press conference earlier this week went towards his comments backing the status of Mike Sullivan. Lost in the shuffle of that bigger story was when Dubas touched on was the bottom of the lineup. The Penguins are still eagerly and awaiting that players step up and truly win spots with the opportunities that have been opened up by injuries.
So far this season through 28 games, the Penguins have already played 19 different forwards for at least one NHL game and have dressed eight different defensemen. While most of their top players have been healthy, there’s been several important and often overlapping injuries- from Rickard Rakell, Bryan Rust, Noel Acciari and Matt Nieto up front, to the time where Chad Ruhwedel and P.O Joseph were out on the back-end.
A cruel truth in the world of sport is that injury to some invariably creates opportunity for others.
“We want guys to run right through the door and take it and go,” Dubas said on Monday. “That’s what we’re waiting for with a lot of our depth guys right now. The opportunity is massive, and somebody has to run with it.”
So far, it’s difficult to be blown away by any of the players afforded the chance to play in the NHL this season or see many players that have run with their chance.
Valtteri Puustinen could be the outlier, he finally got his shot, and it early returns have been encouraging. The diminutive but skilled forward had a point in each of his first two games this season, and was a factor in the power play finally getting off the schneid. Puustinen will be looking to avoid what has happened to Radim Zohorna and so many others where the adrenaline and production fades after the first few games and sustainability and consistency becomes the new challenge.
On the backend, Ryan Shea has played a whopping 22 out of the 28 games this season. He’s been decent enough in spots, but hasn’t totally secured his place in an NHL lineup as evidenced by two recent healthy scratches. Similar could be said for John Ludvig in 12 games, who has added some physicality but left a lot to be desired under the hood with shaky goal metrics, advanced stats and no individual offensive impact.
Others that the team was counting on like Drew O’Connor and P.O. Joseph as more established young players haven’t had breakout seasons either. In Joseph’s case, he has been injured for much of the year, but has seemingly not found a steady footing in the lineup prior or following the injury, exemplified by being used for only 11 minutes against Montreal last night.
Dubas has shuffled players in and out from Wilkes-Barre as expected while he’s had the cap space to do so. Many of these internal candidates have been given at least the base of an opportunity, very few to this point have managed to find lasting success.
“I’m excited for the guys that are in those opportunities to take advantage of it and roll with it. But if they don’t, then it’s up to me to act and try to us other guys who can.”
The latter part could be coming into play based on what Dubas has seen over these last few weeks where veterans like Rakell, Acciari, Nieto and Ruhwedel have been out.
David Pagnotta from the Fourth Period gave this update yesterday on the trade market scene. The information isn’t specific but the relevant portion is that it is known around the league that Dubas is shopping to make improvements to the club.
The Pittsburgh Penguins picked up a much needed two points Tuesday night. They aren’t making a coaching change, but GM Kyle Dubas is looking around the League for help at both ends of the ice. They’d like to upgrade their bottom-six and third-pair defensive pairing.
That note by Pagnotta about the Penguins falls in nicely with his unrelated ditty about a player who could be on the move.
As I reported on Sunday, and reiterated Tuesday on NHL Network, the Detroit Red Wings have had trade conversations with multiple teams about young forward Jonatan Berggren, who is back up with the big club on an emergency loan and has two in two straight games. Two separate sources confirmed the Wings have had talks about the 23-year-old over the last few weeks and Berggren and his camp are aware that a move is possible. The Habs are one of the teams interested.
Berggren, 23, is a former high second round pick of Detroit. He has been exceptionally productive at the AHL level (86 points in 93 career games). Berggren hasn’t been able to make the next step fully in Detroit, but he did put up 15 goal and 28 points in 63 NHL games last season.
Another NHL team might be more interested in Berggren, or have more trade ammunition to part with. Pagnotta mentions this is a player at least somewhat in demand with “multiple teams” inquiring about him. Detroit could opt hold tight at this juncture and not trade hm at all.
In some ways, Berggren might be on a Ty Smith path of a young player who tasted some success in the NHL, but hasn’t been able to stick at that level while performing well in the minors. (Though whether the Red Wings would have any interest in Smith is completely speculative and not to be assumed).
So the dots might not connect in this instance, but one would have to assume a talented young player needing an opportunity would fit in well with what Pittsburgh is seeking, at least as a candidate to consider from the outside. If it doesn’t end up being Bergrren and Detroit as a good fit for a trade, Dubas and the Pens have a whole league worth of teams to sort through and approach that might be mutually beneficial.
Because as the current young players in the Pens’ organization must learn (and it seems like is taught to Nylander about three or four times a year), the door of opportunity doesn’t stay open forever. And if you don’t force your way in, the team will have no choice but to go out and try to find others that might.
To that end, the Pens have already added Jesse Puljujarvi on a tryout. If they sign him, that shifts the numbers game for a player somewhere on the roster, and perhaps at the expense of one of these players who has had an NHL look in the last few weeks or months. There’s never enough room on the roster for all the young players with NHL aspirations, the ones that are seeing that golden opportunity had better dig deep and find a way to remain.