3 Free Agents the Pittsburgh Penguins Should Target

With the conference finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs coming to a close, we are slowly moving towards the July 28th free agency date. The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t have a ton of cap flexibility, but there are a couple of stealthy pickups that could improve their team for a cheap price.

Derek Ryan

This ultimately depends on what happens to Teddy Blueger this offseason. I think the Penguins should 100 percent do everything they can to keep him away from the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft and extend him. However, if he ends up having to leave, Ryan is an amazing consolation prize.

Ryan, 34, spent the past season with the Calgary Flames but was limited to just 43 games due to injuries and cap space issues. Now that he is a free agent, he will get less than his previous $3.125M AAV cap hit and be a more affordable bottom-six piece to most teams, including the Penguins.

Ryan had two goals and 14 points during the 2020-21 season, along with a 7.1 goals above replacement (GAR) and 1.3 wins above replacement (WAR). He was tremendous both offensively and defensively at even strength and provided modest metrics on the penalty kill.

Derek Ryan, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It is unknown how much Ryan will get on the open market, but I would be willing to give him up to $2M on a one-year deal if the Penguins were to lose one of Blueger or Jeff Carter to the expansion draft.

Nikita Gusev

This one is a difficult one after the horrific season Gusev just had. With the New Jersey Devils during the 2020-21 season, he had two goals and five points through 20 games played and a -6.6 GAR, as he was abysmal offensively and defensively at even strength.

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In my opinion, Gusev struggled due to the new system that Lindy Ruff brought in, as the season prior, he had 13 goals and 44 points through 66 games played, and looked like a great talent at the NHL level. His time with the Devils was cut short, as they came to a mutual contract termination, which led to the Florida Panthers signing him

With the Panthers, Gusev had two goals and five points in 11 games played and became a healthy scratch for the playoffs. He definitely saw improvement, with a -0.7 GAR and positive metrics defensively, as he became a solid depth option for the team.

Nikita Gusev, Florida Panthers (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

We all know the talent is there with Gusev, as he had four straight point-per-game seasons in the KHL prior to coming to North America. He just needs the right system, which I think could be the Penguins. It depends on what he thinks his role should be and how much money he wants, but with the chance to play with fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin, I could see him enticed to come to Pittsburgh.

Mike Reilly

This depends on what the Penguins end up doing with Mike Matheson or Marcus Pettersson this offseason. If they move one of those two, it leaves an opening on the left side for Reilly to come in through free agency and make a big impact.

Reilly had a terrific breakout season this year, with 27 points through 55 games played split between the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins. He had a 9.2 GAR, is sturdy both defensively and offensively, and has smooth-skating with an amazing shot. He would be great next to John Marino or Cody Ceci (if he re-signs).

Mike Reilly, Boston Bruins (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Reilly is likely in for a pretty big pay raise from his current $1.5M, so it is unsure if the Penguins will be able to afford him. But if they can find a way to make the cap work, it makes the blue line much better.

Final Thoughts

It is unlikely that the Penguins opt to shake up the team too much, but we could see some new depth options, such as the skaters I mentioned, coming in. That should make for an interesting free agency for new general manager Ron Hextall.