Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall believes in the core and character of his hockey club and will be looking to make some slight adjustments to the roster ahead of next season. While the Penguins can skate and score with the best of them, Hextall admitted the team needs to get tougher to play against, and this is something he’s looking to address soon.
Size and toughness are certainly hard to come by, but let’s not act like they’re impossible to find. The Penguins will have some options via trade and through free agency, which is where we will focus on today. The team is set when it comes to the top two lines and defensive pairings, but after that, it isn’t set in stone. Wing positions on the third line and the bottom defensive pair are two spots Hextall would like to improve, and more specifically, become tougher.
Penguins Options to Add Toughness Include:
Wayne Simmonds, RW
Wayne Simmonds spent last season with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs and while it wasn’t his best season by any means, he showed at 32-years-old, he’s still capable of playing a complimentary role. The rugged winger would bring size and toughness to the Pens and could fit in perfectly on the third line with Jeff Carter. Something to point out here is the fact Hextall and Simmonds have a decorated history together, the GM was serving as the Vice President and Assistant General Manager of the Los Angeles Kings when he drafted Simmonds in the second round back in 2007.
As we’ve seen with the waiver wire pick up of Mark Friedman, and the mid-season trade for Carter, Hextall loves to work with people he knows, and trusts and Simmonds certainly fits the bill. He also provides a ton of what the Penguins are lacking and is another great personality for the dressing room, which is built on character and professionalism. It may take Penguins fans a little bit of time to warm up to adding an ex-rival, who in the past played some heavy minutes for the Philadelphia Flyers. I have a feeling after a couple of solid hits and his first fight sticking up for a teammate, all will be forgotten. It also doesn’t hurt to point out last season, Simmonds took a discount offer to join the Maple Leafs, who were cap crunched, let’s hope he’s open to doing the same in Pittsburgh.
Jamie Oleksiak, LHD
The 28-year-old defenseman is a familiar name to Penguins fans as he spent parts of two seasons in Pittsburgh and performed well. In 83 regular-season games, Jamie Oleksiak produced 25 points, was a plus-18 rating and collected 106 penalty minutes. The 6-foot-7, 255 pounder is a towering defender who uses his positioning to his advantage and is never one to shy away from contact. He made just over $2 million last season and will be signed this summer for something just north of this figure.
Cap space will be an issue for next season, so Hextall’s going to need to be creative with his roster juggling. Moving Marcus Pettersson should certainly be near the top of his priority list. He has four years left on his contract, paying him north of $4 million. A player with Oleksiak’s style instead of Pettersson’s would be the type of upgrade that would benefit these Penguins.
Luke Schenn, RHD
The Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman is headed to the free-agent market this upcoming summer after accepting a one-year $800,000 contract to stay with the Stanley Cup champions. Luke Schenn could provide the Penguins with a reasonable replacement if Cody Ceci prices himself out of reach for Penguins management. Schenn doesn’t skate as well as Ceci, but he is much more physical. Schenn collected 99 hits in only 38 games this regular season, meanwhile compare that to 74 hits in 53 games for Ceci.
Schenn also never backs away from a fight, which is something the likes of Hextall and Brian Burke want to address. Burke knows him very well and is a huge fan of Luke and his family, so that could certainly go a long way when considering adding him to the Penguins mix. A championship resume with almost 800 NHL games under his belt, all played tough and physical, is the type of depth defenseman the team should be considering.
The Penguins have some options this offseason for finding ways to add size and toughness to their roster. These free agents won’t break the bank and should be considered by Hextall and the company. They don’t have a ton of money to spend, so the fan base is going to need to accept a couple of minor transactions over any blockbuster splash. One thing they won’t accept, a Penguins team that isn’t tougher to play against next season. This is going to be addressed before puck drop next season, and you just may see one of these names in the program.
Shane’s been a part of The Hockey Writers team since 2020, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor, his versatile perspective on game results and everything off the ice produces diverse content. You can also find him on the Maple Leafs Lounge podcast with Peter Baracchini and Alex Hobson. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween