Penguins Have Options to Consider on Defense

The Pittsburgh Penguins focused a lot of attention on their defense over the offseason. The re-signing of Kris Letang was probably the biggest news of the summer, however, there will be many new faces joining him. The team has completely reworked their blue line, and with preseason set to begin on Sept. 25, all eyes will be on their defensive pairings. Here is a closer look at some of the new offseason additions.

Ty Smith 

Ty Smith joined the Penguins in July via a trade with the New Jersey Devils. In exchange for Smith, they traded John Marino and a 2023 third-round draft pick. He played his first season in the NHL in 2020-21, and by the end of the year, he led all rookie defensemen in scoring with 23 points in 48 games. He also finished seventh in Calder Trophy voting, an award given to the NHL’s rookie of the year.

Smith hit a slump last year with the Devils scoring only 20 points in 66 games. His poor decisions led to costly mistakes on several occasions, and he also struggled with defending the rush. However, he is a strong skater and the Penguins are hoping he can regain his confidence this season. There is a possibility he will start the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but the Penguins may just decide to throw him into the deep end of the pool in the NHL.

Jan Rutta 

Jan Rutta signed a three-year contract with the Penguins in July that carries an average annual value of $2.75 million. He has spent the last four seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning and was part of two Stanley Cup championships. Although he is not much of a threat on offense, he brings versatility as he has the ability to play on either the left or right. He is also a tough, physical player who can take care of the front of the net which is something the Penguins desperately need.

Possible Defensive Changes

It is no secret that Brian Dumoulin, long-time defensive partner of Kris Letang, has been declining over the past couple of seasons due to injuries. The Penguins are hoping he will bounce back next season, but if he doesn’t, who could fill his role as Letang’s partner?

Jan Rutta Tampa Bay Lightning
Jan Rutta with the Tampa Bay Lightning (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Rutta is high on the list of possible candidates as he has the most experience playing with a top-ten defenseman in Victor Hedman. The only problem with this is that he is not used to playing the minutes that Letang plays. Last season, he averaged 14:46 of ice time at even strength while Letang averaged 19:17. At 6-foot-3, 204 pounds, adding almost five extra minutes of ice time might prove to be too much to handle.

Pierre-Oliver Joseph is another interesting option to replace Dumoulin. He joined the Penguins in 2019 via a trade with the Arizona Coyotes. When he made his first appearance in the NHL back in 2020, he appeared alongside Letang for a few games. However, Joseph was still developing as a player and the pair quickly separated.

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Joseph has spent the last three seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins where he has no doubt improved his game. Last season, he played in six playoff games and scored a total of five points. At this point sending him back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will not do him much good as he has already reached his ceiling in the AHL. He will be doing his best to earn a spot on the roster for the first time in his career. He has definitely become a better player during his time in the AHL and now is the time for him to prove it.

New Faces

The Penguins may have stuck with their core group of veterans on the offensive side of the puck, however, the blue line saw some major changes over the summer. It will be interesting to see how some of the new combinations come together, but when opening night rolls around, all eyes will be on Letang to see who will be skating beside him.