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What does Rem Pitlick have to offer to the Penguins?

Looking into the “other guy” in the trade that brought Erik Karlsson to Pittsburgh

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NHL: MAR 14 Canadiens at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Make no mistake about it, the first, second and third references to Sunday’s big trade will make it known as “the 2023 Erik Karlsson trade”. That’s a fact of life when a three-time Norris winner and future Hall of Famer gets dealt, he’s going to gobble up all of the attention.

While Erik Karlsson was the most important piece that changed hands between San Jose, Pittsburgh and Montreal in monster a three-team transaction, he was not the only asset that the Penguins managed to acquire.

Which means, sooner or later, it’s time to think about what else was traded to Pittsburgh. (And this is not referring to the longshot prospect that was also sent to the Pens, though we did talk about him a little too yesterday).

A note that Toronto-based writer Scott Wheeler made in The Athletic after Round 1 of the NHL draft has stood out to me about a manager he knew well in Kyle Dubas’ tendencies and preferences.

Penguins fans will learn that Dubas likes smart, well-rounded players who know the game and have some quality offensively.

Rem Pitlick does not fit this profile to a T, but he does align with some of the details that Wheeler has noted over the years about the type of players that Dubas tends to acquire. The “have some quality offensively” part rings true, Pitlick has been a prolific scorer in the AHL, NCAA and USHL levels. Whether the 26-year old can produce consistent offense at the very highest level is still in question, but Pitlick did score 15 goals and 37 points in the NHL in 66 games during the 2021-22 season that he split between Minnesota and Montreal.

However, like so many others in the “change of scenery” mode, his most recent campaign was not a tremendous success. Pitlick cleared waivers in November 2022 and was up-and-down between the NHL and AHL three times over the course of the season on emergency loans to avoid having to hit waivers again.

Pitlick dominated when he in the AHL last season, scoring 22 points in just 18 games for Laval in 2022-23. But when back in the NHL he was a frequent healthy scratch and unable to find a steady spot in the lineup with the Canadiens last season. After this week’s trade happened, news leaked in the Montreal media that Pitlick asked the Canadiens trade him to a new club in order to get a fresh start.

If this sounds familiar, Pitlick does draw a lot of a parallels to Ryan Poehling, one of last summer’s Pittsburgh pickups from Montreal.

Pitlick, however, is a different player than Poehling. While Pitlick offers more skill and finishing ability, he is often knocked for defensive impacts on just about any type of modeling you can find.

Given that the Pens more or less around the salary cap, Pitlick’s spot in the opening night NHL roster is not assured. It might be beneficial - or even necessary - for the Pens to waive Pitlick and plan on starting out by placing him in the minors where his $1.1 million salary will not count to their cap. (Assuming Pitlick clears waivers, of course).

On the flip side of the coin, Jake Guentzel is out to start the season while recovering from ankle surgery. This is not to even remotely suggest that Pitlick is close to being a like-for-like replacement for Guentzel — but some player in the organization is going to have to play in a top-six role opening night and a few games beyond until Guentzel returns.

Given Pitlick’s past of scoring 15 goals in the NHL two seasons ago, he’s as good a candidate as any currently around to see what he’s got in a training camp audition as a short-term patch next to Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

All of those potential outcomes are about as diverse as you can get for what Pitlick could mean for the Pens in 2023-24. Is he a salary cap casualty and just a depth piece of the puzzle? Or all the way at the other end as a potential temporary scoring line player in a key role? Or something in between have the chance to offer some offensive ability to the bottom six? The possibilities are all over the map, to be determined by many factors - chief among all being just how Pitlick shows up to camp and what he is able to prove, or disprove about how he fits in.

Pittsburgh doesn’t have a lot of young(ish), hungry players looking for something to prove and still trying to find a home somewhere in some role in the NHL, but Pitlick qualifies as one such case.

And while he’ll always be “the other guy” and footnote in that big Erik Karlsson trade, as Pascal Dupuis taught us many years ago - sometimes the other guy still has something useful to offer too. While there’s only one Pascal Dupuis, Pitlick is looking at a tremendous opportunity to shine and secure what has so far eluded him with a constant spot somewhere in an NHL lineup if he is able to prove it and earn it in Pittsburgh.