Welcome to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2022-23 Trade Targets series, where I will examine trade targets from around the NHL. From blockbuster deals to minor upgrades, no stone will be left unturned, and we’ll be sure to have some fun along the way.
General manager (GM) Ron Hextall is never shy to make a move if he feels it’s going to improve his hockey club, and this season will be no different leading up to the trade deadline in March. Here’s a look at a few trade targets Hextall might be interested in from the Arizona Coyotes:
Forward Nick Ritchie is expected to be moved by the Coyote, and the Penguins are a likely destination. Hextall and president Brian Burke love the way he plays as an in-your-face type of player who doesn’t back down from the dirty areas of the ice. He also has soft hands for a power forward and can play anywhere on a team’s top three lines.
The 27-year-old is a pending unrestricted free agent and wouldn’t cost a ton to acquire. It’s likely the Coyotes would agree to a trade for Ritchie if a mid-level prospect and a draft pick are included, and this is a price tag Hextall and company could afford.
At 6-foot-2 and over 230 pounds, Ritchie’s big frame would be a nice complement to the Penguins’ forward group, and with Jason Zucker battling injuries (every season it seems), the Coyotes forward could be a factor on Pittsburgh’s second line along with Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust.
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Ritchie makes $2.5 million against the salary cap and needs a contract for next season. This season, the Orangeville, ON, native has seven goals and 12 points in 27 games.
It makes me wonder if swapping the Coyotes’ power forward for Kasperi Kapanen would interest Pittsburgh at all. This move would allow the Penguins to unload his $3.2 million cap hit for next season and give Hextall more flexibility to make an offseason splash. Adding Ritchie would also give the Penguins more physicality up front and a net-front presence for the team’s second power-play unit.
Penguins fans are you ready for a reunion? Coyotes forward Nick Bjugstad is another interesting trade target out of the desert, and some fans will remember him from the 45 games he played with the team over two seasons.
Bjugstad is in his first season with the Coyotes and, as a pending unrestricted free agent, is likely to be moved before the trade deadline. With his versatility and ability to play down the middle, he is a player the Penguins should have on their radar.
In 30 games this season, the 6-foot-6 former first-round pick has seven goals and 12 points. He’s only making $900,000 against the cap, which should appeal to Hextall, as the Penguins have only a little bit of cap space to work with this season.
Adding Bjugstad would give head coach Mike Sullivan another wrinkle of versatility, as the 30-year-old has experience playing all over the lineup and in many different situations. This season in Arizona, Bjugstad has been a staple on the team’s penalty kill and could assume these duties with the Penguins. Hextall would likely only have to give up a late-round draft pick or a mid-level prospect to acquire him before the trade deadline.
If there’s one Coyotes player (not named Jakob Chychrun) who needs a change of scenery, it’s young forward Barrett Hayton. The 2018 fifth-overall pick has not been able to find his game in the desert and could benefit from a new role under a new head coach.
Hayton has one goal in 30 games this season after scoring 10 in 60 games in 2021-22. Regardless, his potential should be appealing to the Penguins. Things haven’t worked out so far in Arizona for the former junior star, and I’m starting to wonder if the Coyotes would be willing to move Hayton for another player who could use a change of scenery.
Hayton would be a great addition as he’s able to play in all situations, including both special teams, and he’s great in the faceoff dot. I could see him eventually being a solid number-three center for the Penguins, behind Malkin and Sidney Crosby, and with his versatility, could easily be moved around the lineup should injuries occur.
Hayton would cost much more than Ritchie or Bjugstad to acquire, given that he’s only 22 years old and he’s a former top-five pick. The Penguins would have to give up a top prospect, and at this point, it’s hard to say just how willing Hextall would be to do that.
The Penguins are expected to be active in the market this season, and the Coyotes will be selling off some assets before the deadline. Ritchie, Bjugstad, and Hayton all bring different skill sets, and each player could be an interesting addition to Pittsburgh. Thank you for stopping by to enjoy the first segment of Penguins’ 2022-23 trade targets.
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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