Penguins: 3 Free Agent Forwards to Target This Offseason

The Pittsburgh Penguins organization and their fan base are devastated following a fourth-straight first-round exit from the playoffs. Mika Zibanejad and the rival New York Rangers brought their hammer down on the depleted Penguins in seven games, advancing to the second round for the first time since 2017. While the Penguins are trying to settle into the offseason, general manager (GM) Ron Hextall and the front office have some major roster questions to address.

Jeff Carter Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Jeff Carter celebrates a goal with Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Currently, the Penguins have $54 million allocated for 15 players on the roster for the 2022-23 NHL season. Bryan Rust recently signed a six-year contract extension worth $30.75 million with a cap hit of $5.125 million per year (‘Penguins re-sign forward Bryan Rust to 6-year contract extension’, Tribune-Review, 2022). Franchise superstars Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin will be forced to settle for lower compensation and a shorter stay in Pittsburgh if they desire to return to the team they’ve spent their entire careers with, as they’re both unrestricted free agents (UFAs).

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However, if Malkin, Letang, or both choose to move on from Pittsburgh, the Penguins will have big shoes to fill. Today we’ll be looking at three UFA forwards that may fit the Penguins’ line schemes in the prospective absence of homegrown veterans.

Andrew Mangiapane

For the Penguins, the most critical aspect to remaining competitive is to build a younger team. One of the best-producing young guns set to hit the free-agent pool is the Calgary Flames’ Andrew Mangiapane. The 26-year-old winger found his form this season, notching 55 points (35 goals, 20 assists) in his fifth NHL campaign. It has been a career year for Mangiapane, whose offensive contributions greatly assisted the Flames’ first capture of the Pacific division crown since 2018-19.

Andrew Mangiapane Calgary Flames
Andrew Mangiapane, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Mangiapane currently is slotted in the Flames’ second line alongside Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman. This season marked the first instance in which he played every game of the full 82-game slate. Remaining healthy throughout a rigorous and physically demanding season is extremely valuable to front office executives.

See Also: Penguins Should Sign Rickard Rakell This Offseason

Given Mangiapane is a restricted free agent (RFA), trading for him could award the Penguins a much-needed secondary goal scorer. Sending the combination of a role player such as Kasperi Kapanen and a draft pick may be enough to secure the Flames’ winger. Mangiapane had five points (two goals, three assists) through the Flames’ playoff run, which came to a bitter end after an overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night.

Vincent Trocheck

Many professional athletes go their entire careers without getting to play for their hometown team. Luckily, the Penguins are in need of a second-line center, and Pittsburgh-born-and-bred Vincent Trocheck fits the bill perfectly. In his third season with the Carolina Hurricanes, Trocheck put up 51 points (21 goals, 30 assists) to help propel them to a playoff berth and their second consecutive Metropolitan Division crown.

Vincent Trocheck Carolina Hurricanes
Vincent Trocheck, Carolina Hurricanes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Trocheck is known for his gritty, tough style of play, an intangible that the Penguins lineup is in desperate need of. If Hextall can convince Trocheck to come back home and play, perhaps for a hometown discount, the Penguins could very well become a force to reckon with. Through the second round of playoffs, he has eight points (four goals, four assists). He netted the opening tally in game five against the New York Rangers, which solidified a 3-2 series advantage for the Hurricanes.

Andre Burakovsky

Many hockey analysts and pundits have said this is the year for the Colorado Avalanche to take Lord Stanley for themselves. The team has certainly made the case, but not without steady contributions from their role players. The 27-year-old Andre Burakovsky surely pulled his weight, putting up 61 points (22 goals, 39 assists) in what has been a career season for him.

Andre Burakovsky Colorado Avalanche
Andre Burakovsky, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Burakovsky is no stranger to the Penguins. He saw many playoff matchups against Pittsburgh during his tenure with the Washington Capitals. Joining the Penguins may seem repulsive to a longtime Capital such as Burakovsky, but if Hextall can pull some strings, he would be a worthwhile addition to the Penguins’ forward unit. With Rickard Rakell entering free agency and Jason Zucker having one remaining contract year, adding depth to the left side of the faceoff circle is just what Pittsburgh needs.

These are trying times for the Penguins and the future of their franchise. For Sidney Crosby and the remaining members of the Penguins’ core, their window to capture another Cup is closing. Hextall is in a volatile position to make or break the team and will decide Malkin and Letang’s fates before making any other moves. If the Penguins truly believe they can win another championship instead of rebuilding, there is no time like the present to get those changes underway.

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