Penguins News & Rumors: Rakell, Carter, Zucker & More

Welcome to Pittsburgh Penguins News & Rumors, where we cover all the hot topics and dive into more than just box scores. The team is gearing up for a huge home-and-home series against the Colorado Avalanche and are coming off an emotional playoff-type win over the Minnesota Wild. Get ready for some rapid-fire headlines running us through all the noise surrounding Pittsburgh’s beloved Penguins.

Penguins General Manager Looking Like a Genius

It’s time to give some serious props to general manager Ron Hextall. The veteran executive pulled off a multi-piece trade to land Rickard Rakell from the Anaheim Ducks at the deadline, and as we’ve seen since his arrival, he’s fitting in perfectly.

The 28-year-old winger has been playing mostly with Evgeni Malkin on the second line, but fans have seen what he can do with Sidney Crosby on the ice. Rakell has recorded three goals and five points in six games since arriving in Pittsburgh and has been a key contributor in allowing head coach Mike Sullivan to balance out his lines.

Related: Penguins Trying Out New Defensive Strategies Ahead of Playoffs

Rakell is providing the secondary scoring Hextall was hoping for and is certainly making things even more interesting come the offseason. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent and is one of many on the Penguins. Management is going to be in a tough position this upcoming summer with all the work to do. Not only does Rakell need an extension, so do fellow unrestricted free agents Bryan Rust, Malkin, Kris Letang and Evan Rodrigues, and throw in Kasperi Kapanen who is a restricted free agent.

Penguins Forward Has Zero Luck

In his triumphant return to the Penguins’ lineup, forward Jason Zucker was also making his first appearance back to the Minnesota since being dealt to Pittsburgh back in Feb. 2020. While he managed to record an assist on the opening goal just minutes into the game, it didn’t take long for Zucker to once again get hurt. He was pushed into the boards by Wild forward Kevin Fiala, in a very awkward play that resulted with the Pittsburgh forward leaving the ice under assistance.

While it could be frustrating for some to watch as Zucker’s been oft-injured and hasn’t been consistent when he’s played, that’s not the case in the Penguins’ dressing room. It’s one of the most tight-knit groups in the league and this gesture after the game by Malkin and company, truly exemplifies just how much the players have for each other:

Zucker also received a very thoughtful tribute from the Wild during Thursday’s action in a very classy move from the organization. He spent nine and a half seasons with the organization and you could tell what kind of impact he had in the community throughout the tribute.

Penguins Carter Making Lasting Impact on Kapanen

Jeff Carter is one of the best leaders in the NHL and for the Penguins he’s just one of many, just the way he likes it. Lately, he’s been centering the third line and has seen Kapanen on his right wing. The 25-year-old speedy winger has been one of the more inconsistent forwards on the team this season and has even found himself as a healthy scratch.

Kasperi Kapanen Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguins’ Kasperi Kapanen thriving under the mentorship of teammate Jeff Carter (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With the addition of Rakell at the deadline, it directly impacted Kapanen’s role on the team. Coach Sullivan slotted Rakell in Kapanen’s spot on the right side of Malkin’s second line, causing the 25-year-old winger moving down with Carter. Perhaps this is the perfect spot for him as his head coach likes what he’s been seeing out of him on the third line:

Turns out for the two forwards it’s much more than just hockey, and their off-ice relationship should certainly benefit their on-ice chemistry. Hopefully, the results will start to come as Kapanen does only have one goal and one assist in his last six games since moving down with Carter. He’s going to be in tough to land an extension with the team this summer, there’s no doubt about that.

Penguins Gear Up For Huge Home-and-Home vs. Avalanche

Talk about a true test, the Colorado Avalanche and Penguins will be facing off for a home-and-home series that starts on Saturday afternoon and wraps up on Tuesday of next week. It’s certainly one to circle on the calendar as it’s a true test for Pittsburgh to see how they stack up against a Western Conference powerhouse.

As coach Sullivan mentioned recently, he’s expecting an intense battle with a ton of emotion as it will be fun to watch close friends Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon go toe-to-toe for a couple of games. The Avalanche are coming in hot with their 7-1-1 record in their past nine games and are the only NHL team over 100 points on the season. The games could be decided by special teams as both power plays have scored in at least six straight games, while the edge on the penalty kill certainly resides with the Penguins who rank second in the league, meanwhile the Avalanche are 18th.

Get ready for an emotional couple games as the Penguins look to continue rolling these last 13 games. Keep an eye on Kapanen and Carter’s chemistry, and look for the “new guy” to keep lighting the lamp and making an impact. Hopefully, Zucker won’t be out of the lineup long and the team can get back to full strength before the postseason. For now, bring on the Avalanche.

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