On Feb. 23, the Pittsburgh Penguins faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2019 Stadium Series at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. From the Penguins perspective, the game was an absolute disaster. The Penguins lost their top two defensemen in one play after Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds hit Brian Dumoulin in the head while attempting to keep the puck in the offensive zone.
Things are getting chippy at the Linc after Simmonds hits Dumoulin. pic.twitter.com/RwL4OmfJEw
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) February 24, 2019
The hit was questionable at best, but was not penalized. Kris Letang immediately came to the rescue of his defensive partner, but was injured in a scrum with Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. The Penguins would eventually blow a late 3-1 lead in the third period and go on to lose in overtime. While the loss hurts, losing Letang and Dumoulin long-term is an absolute disaster for the Penguins’ playoff hopes.
With few tradable assets left, and already missing out on what I believe were their top three targets, the Penguins will likely look to Ethan Prow to be the season’s savior.
Prow Has the Skillset to Make Immediate Impact
Unless the Penguins decide to trade for a defenseman as the Feb. 25 Trade Deadline approaches, which is unlikely to happen, Prow is the obvious choice to be called up from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate, to fill the void. Through 53 AHL games this season, Prow leads the team in points (39) and plus/minus (plus-23 rating). He was named to the AHL All-Star Classic and was the first Penguins defenseman since Ross Lupaschuck in 2002-03 to have 10-plus goals by the end of December.
With 15 goals on the season, the Sauk Rapids, Minnesota native has shown that he has fantastic offensive upside. Considering that eight of his 15 goals have occurred on the power play, Prow would be a perfect fit on either the first or second unit for the Penguins, who have struggled lately on the man advantage. His game has always leaned more toward being an offensive defenseman, but this season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton he has done a great job developing his game to become more well-rounded.
Likely to be paired with Juuso Riikola, Prow also has a right-handed shot, something that will fit in perfectly with head coach Mike Sullivan’s defensive preference. Sullivan has shown recently that he prefers to have a left-right balance for his six defensemen, so the fact that Prow allows Sullivan to have the roster balance he likes is another reason why he will likely be getting called up to make his NHL debut.
Penguins Don’t Have Any Other Realistic Options
If the injuries to Letang and Dumoulin were to happen a month ago, there would have been ample time for general manager Jim Rutherford to execute a trade for a depth defenseman, but with the trade deadline rapidly approaching, the Penguins are left with few options. Dumoulin was diagnosed with a concussion, which as we’ve seen in the past can mean that he may miss a few games or a few months – it’s an impossible injury to immediately provide a realistic timetable for a return.
Letang on the other hand has a long injury history, and while it’s completely understandable why he went to Dumoulin’s defense after a questionable hit, him leaving the scrum battered is a disaster. The Penguins may have found a way to win the Stanley Cup without him two seasons ago, but he is completely irreplaceable in 2018-19.
Coach Sullivan confirms that Brian Dumoulin has a concussion and Kris Letang is being evaluated for an upper body injury.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 24, 2019
The two biggest trade assets the Penguins have are their first-round picks in 2019 and 2020. These are picks the Penguins cannot afford to trade away in a panic after losing both Letang and Dumoulin. There is almost zero chance they will get much return with GMs around the league understanding the bind that the Penguins are in. The Penguins have had only one first-round selection since 2013 (Kasperi Kapanen in 2014), and cannot afford to continue to ship them away.
By calling up Prow, the worst thing that can happen is that the Penguins find out he is not NHL ready. At 26 years old, his time is already running thin, and with the season he is having in the AHL, he certainly deserves a look at the NHL level. Best-case scenario is the Penguins find a diamond in the rough and Prow takes full advantage of his opportunity. Crazier things have happened and the Penguins need to call Prow up and give him a chance to be the season’s savior.