Since the 2019-20 NHL season began, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been forced to navigate through nearly every key member of the team being injured at some point. Still, after the NHL All-Star break, the Penguins find themselves with the fourth-most points in the NHL and just four points behind the Washington Capitals for the Metropolitan Division lead.
Unfortunately, Jake Guentzel’s brutal shoulder injury that will hold him out through the end of the regular season might be the worst one yet. The Penguins were likely going to be buyers before the trade deadline, but now a big move in the next month feels imminent.
Unless the Penguins utilize the long-term injured reserve with Guentzel’s injury, they may need to move an NHL contract to bring on bigger contracts while staying under the salary cap, especially for a player that isn’t simply a rental. Some of those options could include Alex Galchenyuk — who is reportedly on the trading block — or Justin Schultz, whose future in Pittsburgh after this season is uncertain.
Without taking into account those potential NHL-level players, what are the Penguins’ most valuable trade deadline assets?
5. Pierre-Olivier Joseph
If the Penguins decide to flip Pierre Olivier-Joseph, there’s a good chance that both he and Galchenyuk — the two players acquired in the Phil Kessel deal last offseason — may not last a full season in the Penguins organization. Joseph might be the most likely prospect for the Penguins to move as well.
Joseph has value; he was a 2017 first-round pick and many believe he still has plenty of room to physically grow into his 6-foot-2 frame. The 20-year-old blueliner racked up over 50 points in his final three QMJHL seasons and has eight points in 34 AHL contests this season.
Defensively, his long body gives him the potential to be a plus-defender. At least for now, Joseph is also a fairly strong skater. While he’s still a couple of years from being ready for the NHL, he’ll be a big name to look out for over the next few weeks.
4. 2020 First-Round Pick
The Penguins have never really shied away from trading their draft picks to improve the roster. Prior to selecting Samuel Poulin in the first round in 2019, the team hadn’t been active in the first round since 2014. However, with a fairly thin prospect pool, general manager Jim Rutherford has been more inclined to hold on to his draft capital recently.
Rutherford should be able to navigate the market for a decent winger without having to dish the Penguins’ top draft pick this season. Considering the Penguins have already moved their 2020 second-round pick, there’s a good chance they hang on to their first-rounder. Still, if Pittsburgh is looking for a big splash without trading a top prospect, the team may not have a choice.
3. Nathan Legare
The Penguins traded up into the third round of the 2019 NHL Draft to snag the sharpshooting Nathan Legare. The 6-foot winger racked up 45 goals last season and has a shot at reaching the 40-goal mark again in 2019-20 despite playing for a very mediocre QMJHL squad in Baie-Comeau.
He earned his entry-level contract almost immediately after a two-goal preseason outing that impressed everyone, including Rutherford. He has the upside of a top-six winger at the NHL level and will likely be brought up in plenty of trade conversations over the next month.
2. Samuel Poulin
As mentioned, Poulin was the Penguins first-round pick in 2019, going 21st overall. While he may not have quite as much upside as Legare, the 6-foot-2 forward’s status as a first-round pick could give him a slight boost in trade value. It doesn’t hurt that he’s having an even better QMJHL campaign than he did in 2018-19.
Poulin has 24 goals and 51 points in just 33 games this season; last season, he totaled 29 goals and 76 points over 67 contests. The 18-year-old also has a plus-32 rating this season and has shown huge flashes of his potential, including an eight-point outing in October and a five-point performance on Jan. 24.
The big question is whether the Penguins would be willing to trade either of their top two picks from the most recent draft. Obviously, Rutherford is going to do everything he can to hang on to them, but the Penguins have a legitimate chance at the Stanley Cup this season and might push the chips all-in.
1. Calen Addison
Finally, the player that’s near-unanimously regarded as the Penguins top prospect, defenseman Calen Addison. If there’s anyone in the system that’s untouchable, it’s their 2018 second-round selection. All signs point to the 19-year-old one day being a strong top-four blueliner at the NHL level.
In many ways, the Penguins view Addison as the successor to Kris Letang in a few years from now. Though a bit smaller, he’s fast, has an advanced hockey IQ and offensive upside, and is comfortable quarterbacking a powerplay. Addison put those talents on display in the 2020 World Juniors where he racked up nine points for Canada’s gold-medal winning group.
Because the Penguins have Addison heavily involved in their future plans, it would take quite a bit to pull him away. As mentioned, the system is already thin, they don’t want to lose their top prospect. Addison likely isn’t going anywhere.
The Penguins don’t have a ton to work with when it comes to trade assets. They were never major players in the Taylor Hall sweepstakes for that reason and won’t be able to secure a massive deal anytime soon for that reason. Still, should Rutherford really go all-in, some of the Penguins’ top prospects will certainly be discussed in negotiations.