After a disappointing playoff exit in the first round, I expect the Pittsburgh Penguins will trade some players. You could argue that it was only one player’s fault, but I believe we will see some movement after underperforming seasons from some players and with the Seattle Kraken expansion draft coming up. Here are the players who could be on the move.
He is the obvious choice, as Zucker had a disappointing season and has not been what the Penguins expected him to be when they traded a first-round pick and defenseman prospect Calen Addison for him last February.
Zucker, 29, recorded nine goals and 18 points through 38 games this season, often rotating between the second and third lines. He ranked fourth-worst on the team in expected wins above replacement (xWAR), with a 0.00, meaning he neither earned nor lost the team wins above replacement level.
I wasn’t disappointed in Zucker. He is a gritty and energetic forward who has the skill but has been unlucky production-wise. People have forgotten his 12 points in 15 games after joining the Penguins in 2019-20. The potential is there for him to produce at a 50-point pace over an 82-game season.
I don’t think he’s as bad as the stats show, and if head coach Mike Sullivan put him on a line with Sidney Crosby, his production would skyrocket. However, this was likely his last season in Pittsburgh, and he could be an option for the Seattle Kraken to draft. If not, I expect him to be moved to make room for rookie Samuel Poulin.
Marcus Pettersson’s decline has not been fun to watch. The Swedish defender looked like a steal after being acquired for Daniel Sprong. However, over time, he has become worse and worse, and he is now a bottom-pairing defenseman who is paid $4 million annually until 2025.
Since arriving in Pittsburgh during the 2018-19 season, Pettersson’s production has gradually declined from a 0.33 point-per-game pace to 0.31. This season, it was a measly 0.19. I know his job is not to put up numbers, but his defensive game has also been lackluster. The problem is that he’s not a great positional player, so he often gets beat in the neutral zone and is forced to either take a stick infraction penalty or let the player get a free breakaway for a quality scoring chance. We saw this far too often during the season, and it was frustrating to watch.
The Penguins have several cheaper options to replace him. Pierre-Olivier Joseph had five points and a 0.30 xGAR through 16 games this season, and while he looked bad defensively at times, a full season in the AHL has helped him mature his game. Another option is Juuso Riikola, who I’m a fan of. He was limited to just two games this season, and it is sad to see how he is being misused by the team. He is ready for a bottom-pairing role in the NHL but hasn’t been given the opportunity.
A far-fetched option, but one I would not be opposed to, is William Reilly, a shut-down defensive defenseman selected with the very last pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Reilly was named a finalist for the ECAC’s Best Defensive Defenseman Award in 2019-20 and was called up to the Penguins’ taxi squad this season but was never given the chance to play.
I don’t think Pettersson is “unmovable”, meaning the Penguins won’t have to give up assets to get rid of him. I would look at a team like the Los Angeles Kings or Chicago Blackhawks, who have the cap space and the need for young defensemen.
I like Casey DeSmith as much as the next person, but the Penguins need a more experienced tandem if they are going to keep Tristan Jarry which, by the looks of it, will happen.
DeSmith had a great season, with an 11-7-0 record and two shutouts, a .912 save percentage (SV%), and 3.89 goals saved above expected (GSAx). He was poised to take the starting job from Jarry, however, he could never keep his play consistent.
After a strong regular season, DeSmith could fetch a good return and make room for a veteran goaltender to take his place and mentor Jarry. I’d look at the Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, and Anaheim Ducks as potential trade partners who need a good backup.
This is another instance in which the expansion draft has put pressure on the Penguins to make a move. Aston-Reese is a likely candidate to be exposed and potentially claimed by the Kraken, which puts the team in a position to get something for him in a trade rather than lose him for nothing.
While he was a solid defensive player on the fourth line, he is easily replaceable by a free agent on a cheaper deal. He was invisible in the offensive zone, like a black hole, scoring just two goals in his last 25 games this season.
Aston-Reese would be a good fit for teams like the Edmonton Oilers or Toronto Maple Leafs, who want to improve their depth. The Penguins could always hold out and hope the Kraken don’t choose him, but more likely, he will be moved.
These are the only players who are likely to be moved by the team this offseason. We will see mostly the same lineup going into next season, as general manager Ron Hextall doesn’t seem keen on a whole roster shakeup. This offseason is very important, and the Penguins mustn’t overreact to another first-round exit and sell off everybody.