The Pittsburgh Penguins started the 2022-23 season by securing points in their first five games. Since then, they haven’t won a game in seven tries. From shady goaltending to some early injuries, along with some disappointing starts for a number of players, the Penguins are in need of an early season shakeup after a summer where general manager (GM) Ron Hextall committed to the core of his team for a number of years.
Here are three Penguins who are emerging as trade candidates early on this season:
The Penguins committed to Kasperi Kapanen this past summer, signing the speedster to a two-year contract at $3.2 million per season. Unfortunately, Kapanen has started slow out of the gate this season and finds himself becoming a trade candidate for the Penguins.
Kapanen finds himself in a checking role and has finally been given the opportunity to kill penalties. The bad news is the team’s penalty killing is ranked in the bottom seven of the league at a horrible 73.2 percent clip. He hasn’t been able to find much success at five-on-five either, only chipping in with one goal in 12 games.
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The Penguins may be best suited here to move Kapanen, along with a mid-level prospect for an experienced forward who has the ability to move up and down the lineup. He has been inconsistent since joining the Penguins and eventually the team is going to need some secondary scoring to help carry the load for the big guns. Right now, they don’t have this element in the speedy winger.
While he doesn’t necessarily jump off the page initially as a trade candidate to some, rarely-used defenseman Chad Ruhwedel is someone who could be dealt early on this season. Some Penguins fans are likely screaming for Brian Dumoulin, but the Penguins appear very loyal to keeping him around. There are a number of teams looking for depth on their blue line and the Penguins should explore flipping Ruhwedel for a forward.
The 32-year-old defenseman has only appeared in three games in 2022-23, recording zero points and averaging just over 12 minutes of ice time a game. It was no secret the team was trying to move Pierre-Olivier Joseph during training camp, however not facilitating a deal may have been a blessing in disguise as it looks like Joseph is NHL-ready.
The Penguins have a surplus of defensemen as Ty Smith and Mark Friedman remain in the minors and could easily be called up. Hextall needs to look into moving on from Ruhwedel, to gain some more depth up front. Getting Teddy Blueger back soon will certainly help a number of elements of their forward group, including the penalty kill and faceoff percentage, but that’s not going to be enough. It’s time to create a trade package with Ruhwedel, Kapanen, and some prospects to make some noise on the trade market.
One of the biggest downfalls early on this season for the Penguins continues to be their struggles in net. While Tristan Jarry has all four of the team’s wins, backup Casey DeSmith is off to a horrible start, sitting winless on the year.
The Penguins committed to DeSmith this past summer, signing the 31-year-old to a two-year contract extension at $1.8 million against the cap. So far, the early return on the contract has been minimal and DeSmith is quickly becoming a legitimate trade candidate.
The Penguins have both Filip Lindberg and Dustin Tokarski in the minors. Lindberg, 23, has yet to see any NHL action, however, the team is very high on him and sees a bright future for the former NCAA star. Tokarski on the other hand has started the 2022-23 American Hockey League season hot as anyone, posting a 4-1-1 record with a 1.50 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage. He’s someone who appeared in 29 NHL games last season for the Buffalo Sabres and is capable of providing the Penguins with some quality backup starts.
DeSmith is someone who could appeal to a number of teams, as goaltending depth is a cause for concern in a few markets, including the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and St Louis Blues. At only $1.8 million against the cap and with back-to-back impressive seasons in 2020-21 and 2021-22, there’s likely a small market for his services.
Hextall and the Penguins need to figure things out quickly as the downward spiral continues. They currently sit second last in the Metropolitan Division and the team appears to have a number of holes up front and in goal. Kapanen, Ruhwedel, and DeSmith all find themselves as prime trade candidates early on this season, as the management team in Pittsburgh should consider at least a minor shake-up to the roster.
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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