Welcome to The Hockey Writers’ 2023 Free-Agent Targets series for the Detroit Red Wings. During it, we will be looking at a handful of free agents from each NHL team who the Red Wings should consider pursuing this summer.
In this latest edition of the series, we will be focusing on the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have a few pending free agents who would help fill the needs that the Red Wings have right now. Let’s discuss them now.
The Red Wings should be looking to add at least one bottom-six forward this offseason. Alex Chiasson, Adam Erne, and Pius Suter are all pending unrestricted free agents (UFA), and their forward depth will be hit if they all walk. As a result, one Penguins free agent who could make sense for Detroit is Danton Heinen. The 27-year-old played in 65 games during the 2022-23 with Pittsburgh, scoring eight goals and recording 22 points. For his standards, it was a bit of a down year, but he is a clear bounce-back candidate when noting that he had 18 goals and 33 points in 76 games the year before.
If the Red Wings signed Heinen, he would be an acceptable option to play third-line minutes. However, he also could work on the club’s fourth line, as the winger has shown that he can produce decent secondary scoring in limited minutes. With that, his effective passing ability could also allow him to see some time on the Red Wings’ second power-play unit if signed.
The Red Wings have over $30 million of cap space to work with this offseason and not too many notable free agents to re-sign. Therefore, general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman is in a position to do some spending. The Red Wings could use another top-six forward, and Jason Zucker would be a nice addition to their club because of it. In 78 games this past season with the Penguins, the 31-year-old scored 27 goals and recorded 48 points.
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Zucker is a valuable player, as he can play both left wing and right wing. Due to this, he would be an outstanding fit on the Red Wings’ second line at either position. Yet, he also could be a serviceable option to play first-line minutes with Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond. In either scenario, the Red Wings’ top six would improve noticeably by adding Zucker. With that, the veteran forward would also work well on both Detroit’s power play and penalty kill because of his solid all-around game.
The Red Wings should consider pursuing another goaltender this summer. The Alex Nedeljkovic experiment proved to be a bust, and Detroit is likely to let him walk straight to free agency this summer because of it. Meanwhile, Ville Husso struggled to find consistency in his first season as a Red Wing. In 56 appearances on the year, the 28-year-old had a 26-22-7 record, 3.11 goals-against average (GAA), and a .896 save percentage (SV%). As a result of this, the Red Wings should look to bring in Tristan Jarry to form a solid 1A-1B tandem with Husso. This, in turn, would put less pressure on Husso to be “the guy” in the net.
Jarry has shown that he is an effective starting netminder, and he would be a good addition to Detroit’s roster because of it. In 47 games this season with Pittsburgh, the 28-year-old had a 24-13-7 record, 2.90 GAA, and .909 SV%.
If the Red Wings hope to finally be a playoff team again in 2023-24, they will need to improve their goaltending, and bringing in a proven starter like Jarry would do exactly that. As noted above, Detroit also has the money to bring in Jarry with ease.
Alas, the Red Wings have some solid free-agent targets from the Penguins worth considering. Out of this trio, adding Jarry or Zucker would be most impactful, but taking a chance on Heinen is not a bad idea, either. We will need to wait and see if the Red Wings sign any of these three from here.