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Surprises, favorite moments, potential trades, and potential prospect help

August 5, 2022, 1:43 PM ET [91 Comments]
Ryan Wilson
Pittsburgh Penguins Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
You know the drill. It is August and not a lot is going on. Time for the ol’ mailbag.

With Mike Matheson being traded in the Jeff Petry deal I think there’s a decent chance the 23-year-old Pierre Olivier Joseph gets a roster spot. He can’t pass through waivers anymore and while it isn’t common for players to get claimed at the beginning of the year I don’t think the Penguins would be very interested in rolling the dice. The Penguins clearly have faith that Brian Dumoulin is going to bounce back. Leaving a bottom pairing role on the left side for somebody to take who is not making significant money. Joseph fits the bill. I think he’ll start there.

I suppose this one depends on your parameters for what a prospect is. Drew O’Connor is the likeliest of the guys from WB/S to find his way in the lineup, but he is 24 years old already and I would argue not a prospect. There aren’t a lot of 22 or under options out there. The Penguins are the 29th ranked prospect system per Sc

Scott Wheeler of the Athletic. You can nitpick the ranking, but you aren’t getting them anywhere out of the bottom third of the league on their best day at the moment. I’ve never thought much of Sam Poulin or Nate Legare’s QMJHL stats and I certainly haven’t seen anything at the AHL level that speaks to players ready to make the jump.

The one prospect I think could have a chance is currently overcoming injury. Filip Lindberg is the prospect I think that has the best path to the NHL. Then again, he’s a goalie and good luck predicting a young goaltender’s path. If he can shake his ankle injury, get some quality work in, I can see a scenario where he finds his way to the big club this year.

Wish I had better answers for this, but I don’t.

Puustinen could have maybe been included in the last question, but I think him being 23 years old takes him out of the prospect grouping. Puustinen came out of nowhere to tie for the team lead in points and earned him some buzz. He even earned an NHL game last year where he earned his first career NHL point with an assist. That said, his 42 points in 71 games isn’t high enough for me to feel confident about his ability to jump right into the NHL. For comparison’s sake Conor Sheary had 20 goals and 25 assists in only 58 games in WB/S during his 22-year-old season. The closer you can get to the point per game range the better. Puustinen’s biggest issue is going to be leap frogging the bottom six players Pittsburgh has collected this offseason such as: Ryan Poehling, Josh Archibald, and Drake Caggiula. He will also be battling returning players like Drew O’Connor and Radim Zohorna, and maybe even Alex Nylander.

Always a chance for more trades.

As for something surprising, hockey wise I still can’t believe Johnny Gaudreau sought out the Columbus Blue Jackets. Even the Blue Jackets were caught off guard and had to come up with something on the fly after Gaudreau’s agent reached out to them. Gaudreau earned his status as a UFA and he is free to choose how his career plays out. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t surprising.

As for a non-hockey related surprise let’s hear it for Alex Jones’ lawyer this week.

When you look at their contracts I can understand the question. Both are on expiring deals at a 5.5M cap hit.

On the ice I don’t think it makes sense for the Penguins. Jason Zucker’s 2021-22 season was incredibly frustrating for two major reasons. Injuries, which stole most of the year from him and put him in recovery mode even when he was playing, and bad shooting luck which caused his goal production to plummet. I would roll the dice on Zucker being on the ice more often this year and scoring more goals. His underlying numbers were pretty solid. He is on an expiring deal so there’s no panic in trying to unload him because you’re stuck with him. Even if he has a bad year, you could probably still move him at the deadline if you really wanted to given the expiring term.

I was bullish on Jonathan Drouin way back when Tampa was stashing him in Syracuse instead of playing him on the big roster. I have been underwhelmed by his NHL career. His underlying numbers are rarely good and his point production isn’t close to being good enough to overcome it. Zucker is harder on the forecheck and his underlying numbers are more trustworthy so even if points don’t come Zucker is still doing something.

The Rangers were riding high last year with a number of their players. Igor Shesterkin was amazing. I think he will continue to be amazing. The issue for the Rangers is if that amazing drops even a shade they’ll very much notice it in the standings, that is how good the reigning Vezina Trophy winner was last year. Another regression to keep track of is Chris Kreider’s. He scored a career high 52(!) goals last year. His previous career high was 28 goals. Kreider is a really good player, but that right there is what we call an outlier.

Even with some regression on those two players I think it is more probable for the Rangers to make the playoffs than not. I think they are better than the Flyers, Blue Jackets, Islanders, and Devils.

Sid the soon to be 35-year-old kid until further notice.

There is always a chance, albeit close to zero. They apparently like this player. The 3.2M contract is all the evidence you need. They have gone all-in on Kapanen’s third(?) chance. For better or worse we are going to live and die watching Kapanen and his shooting percentage this year.

Ty Smith had some impressive stats as a prospect. He also got thrown into the fire on a bad team when he was young. The Penguins are betting on his potential and that the New Jersey Devils environment wasn’t conducive to getting the best out of him. It is reasonable logic. I think Smith can probably be the good version of Justin Schultz, which as we remember was very important to the Penguins 2015-16 run as an offensive minded bottom pairing defender.

My favorite in-person hockey moment, even though it doesn’t have to be the Penguins, is going to the Igloo in the 2001 playoffs. It was Game 4 against the Washington Capitals and Jeff Halpern’s overtime goal earned the victory for the road team. Even with the Penguins loss it was a tremendous experience. Not being from Pittsburgh I hadn’t really gotten to see Mario Lemieux (or Jagr for that matter) up close and personal.

My friend went to school in Pittsburgh and before the game we walked to the arena looking for tickets. We caught a guy who was selling face value tickets to an obvious scalper. My extroverted friend in no uncertain terms told the man selling the tickets “**** that guy he isn’t even going to the game”. It was enough for us to get the tickets. That scalper was pissed. That alone made it a great night.

Our seats were third row next to the aisle the Penguins came out of. I was able to see Lemieux, Jagr, Stevens, Kovalev, Straka, Lang, and my guy Kasparaitis up close. I still to this day remember how awesome it was watching the five forward power play operate right in front of me. Seeing Lemieux, Jagr, and Stevens up front with Kovalev and Straka on the back end was really a sight to behold. You just don’t appreciate how terrific the skill and puck movement is on TV until you see right in front of your face.

What seals this as one of my favorite memories is the fact both Lemieux and Jagr scored. This is obviously something you want to happen when you go in person. What made it super special was it was the last time I got to hear John Barbaro call out those names in a goal call. I really miss Barbaro and you always got a little extra on those calls in the playoffs. It is the kind of moments that make your hair stand up.

For non-Penguins my first game being a head coach for varsity hockey the opposing coach went Bobby Knight and started throwing sticks and pucks onto the ice like a lunatic. It was a good feeling knowing no matter what happened after that I was going to come out looking like gold. It was the first and only time I’ve been involved in a game where a coach was throwing objects from the bench and I think it will stay that way.

Thanks for reading!
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