Penguins: Center of Attention – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins: Center of Attention

The Great Center Debate goes on. I know I have commented on this before, but it has yet to be resolved.

Training camp has opened up and the regular season is just around the corner, but our Penguins are still without a clear third line Center. Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan (at least publicly) express little concern. Hmm…. Do I believe it? Well, let’s just say I am not sold on that statement.

Let’s face it, we are not talking about the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, or Detroit Red Wings; we are not even talking about the under-achieving Washington Capitals or runners-up Nashville Predators, we are talking about the defending Stanley Cup Champions on the cusp of something historic, a Three-peat Championship. I was a senior in high school last time that happened, more years ago than I want to contemplate.

Yes, the players need to just go out and have fun to be in the best position to Three-peat, but Rutherford and Sullivan should be concerned right now. They are not looking to replace a Kim Davis or Mitch Lamoureux, they are looking to replace Nick Bonino, who chipped in 18 goals last regular season and who drove the famous HBK line, heroes of the first Cup of the Championship Run. And what makes the task even more daunting, Matt Cullen, the fourth line Center, added another 15 goals. The task ahead of Rutherford and Sullivan is not an easy one.

Looking at the names the rumor mill has produced about who will fill these holes, logic would seem to dictate that Matt Duchene is the player that Rutherford must look to acquire if at all possible, if our Penguins truly are going to make an all-out effort to enter the history books. Duchene is a bona fide 20 goal scorer, averaging 24 goals per 82 games across his short career. He is also a stud in the face-off circle, with a career 52.7% win percentage, coming off of 57.9% and a 62.6%, the last two years (respectively). The down side is that Joe Sakic, Colorado’s GM, is asking an unrealistic price for Duchene. However, if Rutherford could land Duchene at a more honest price then our Penguins would be in the best position of any team, regardless of the Three-peat to win the Cup.

Andrea Athanasiou, would be the second most logical choice to drive that third line for the Penguins. He can fly and has demonstrated consistent goal scoring skills. He potted the same amount of goals as Bonino did in 80 games last year playing only 64 games with Detroit. No he is not the Bonino’s equal in the face-off circle or shot blocking categories, but if he were playing alongside Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel, the speed and Corsi number of those two would seem to make those limitations almost negligible. Furthermore, Athanasiou is a Restricted Free Agent of the Detroit Red Wings and the Red Wings are already $3 million over the cap. If Rutherford offered Athansiou even $2 million, Detroit could not match it. In a worst-case scenario, one blogger has suggested (citation needed), the Penguins would lose a second round pick (third round player). Probability suggests the Penguins will be drafting that low, so the Penguins may be able to trade a Tom Kuhnhackl or Bryan Rust to save the choice, without losing any players in the virtual log jam at wing.

Now that Bryan Little has signed an extension with the Winnipeg Jets and would appear no longer a viable candidate, no other trades appear worthy of a second look. Scuttlebutt has revealed another name to the debate, Riley Sheahan of Detroit, but the oddsmakers would surely consider that a significant step down in talent and even Lady Luck and the Fates would be against this potential addition to our boys of winter. Sheahan has never potted more than 14 goals a season and his career averages only 11 goals per 82 games. Making matters worse is that statistically our Penguins have faced the back-up goalie of their opponents the very least amount of times over the last several years. The chances of Sheahan having a career year and contributing anything close to Bonino’s 18 goals seems very remote. Furthermore Sheahan’s face-off win percentage of 48.8% doesn’t add any value to bringing him in to Pittsburgh for anything more than a Wilkes-Barre Scranton bound prospect.

In-House, Jay McClement may be able to take on a fourth line role here in the ‘burgh, but he is also an ill fit to put our Penguins in their best position to Three-peat. In his best season he could only manage 12 markers and that was way back when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were still chasing their first Cup in 2008-2009. McClement’s career thus far has only averaged 8 goals per 82 games.

It is hard to project what some of our Penguins’ Prospects will do, but other names added to the debate suggest the Penguins will go with Teddy Blueger. Rutherford, Sullivan, and Donatelli all seem high on the kid. He was +24 with 7 goals and 24 assists in 54 games down in Wilkes-Barre Scranton last year. Blueger looked strong in the face-off circle during last weeks’ Tournament, but despite the praise of his bosses I did not see anything in his game to suggest that he could help form a third line capable of really adding any offense if opponents shut down Crosby and Malkin. So, Blueger may be able to fill in at fourth line if Carter Rowney needs help or is needed elsewhere, but he is ill-suited to form a recontsitution of the HBK line. Blueger appeared to have trouble keeping up with Daniel Sprong and Zack Aston-Reese in the Tournament, which does not bode well.

The only in-house player that would seem to be a good fit for that third line Center position at this point would to be Adam Johnson. He is definitely not the biggest player on the roster and has no professional experience, but in the Prospects Tournament, he was the only one that impressed me with his offensive instincts. Against other prospects he handled the puck very well in traffic and showed the toughness to take hits and keep playing, despite only weighing 174lbs.

However, if the Penguins really are all in it for a Three-peat, no one in the organization really seems to be in a position, at this point, to really replace Bonino.

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  1. 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
    September 18, 2017 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Good rundown, tOR! I agree re: a third line center as important to the best chance of a triple play. But, I still think Duchene is beyond the team’s reach without putting an unneeded kink in the D. Some of the D-kids in camp look good, but not ready for prime time just yet. For now, Athanasiou, seems like the best bet at the best price. But, I’m thinking Detroit is looking for ways to hang on to him and dealing Sheahan.

    I went to a couple practices and I was impressed. Of course, everybody looks good in camp, except Pouliat, though he was better in today’s scrimmage. I thought the Pouliat experiment was over several years ago. I don’t know why he’s still here.

    One player who intrigues me is Sam Miletic. He looks to have decent size – 6’0″ @ 190, was always around the net, good with the puck, and seems to have decent hands. Apparently likes to shoot, too. Not bad in his own end either. I see some possibilty there. I don’t know any more about him than what’s on the website – London Knights last season; 55 points, 37/18, +31 in 65 games. I was sitting there thinking he might have the stuff to play the middle at some point and may be worth keeping in the pipeline. I could see him in Wilkes Barre this season, though I’ve probably just jinxed him.

    Johnson looks good too. Good skater who could keep up and fit in, when his time comes. He may get a shot sooner than later if “the deal” doesn’t happen until later rather than sooner. Not so unsure now about the Reaves deal either. He skates really well, not a burner, but no slouch, and good with the puck. Sees the ice really well and is aware. Made some excellent set up passes, too. Nice touch. I think he’ll be fine and seen as a good acquisition. Yeah, he’ll sell some jerseys!

    Hagelin looks healthy. Outpaced everyone in the skating drills. And Bengtsson is a keeper, I think, anyway. Another guy who impressed me is Tiffels. He has good size and decent speed, but he’s not much of a scoring threat. That’s too bad. Like Aston-Reese, too, but wish he had a little more speed. He’ll never be a Hagelin, but he can get faster. Needs work on those first three steps. Good size and he’s a physical presence, too. He will be in the bigs and it won’t be long. Bellerive may make some noise at some point. It’s all there. If he keeps it going in the right direction we’ll see him on PPG ice some time in the not so distant future. Didn’t notice McClement. Liked what I saw of Lauzon, too, but it’s too soon to tell.

    Well, enough of that. Everybody looks good, and they look to be on a mission. Gonna be a fun season. Now just have to find a 3C and drop the puck.

    – 55

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      September 19, 2017 at 5:13 am | Permalink

      Good stuff 55 on Point,

      I don’t know what to think about Duchene at the moment, other than if the right deal could be struck, he is the best candidate for a team looking to Three-peat. Unfortunately, I can see Sakic trying to price gauge. As for Athanasiou, I agree, if I were Detroit, I would try my best to keep, but since he is a restricted free agent and I am the Penguins with Detroit’s back against the wall, I would take advantage of it and make him an offer too steal him off of Detroit. At this point they need to clear more than $3 million in cap space just to be able to offer him anything.

      I watch about half of the Prospect Tournament and came away with pretty much the same feels as you with the kids. I have mentioned a lot of them, most of the ones you just brought up, unfortunately I forgot to mention Miletic. Thanks for bringing him up. I did like what I saw from him.

      I am not sure if I mentioned Palojarvi recently, but he is another of those young D players that you alluded too that impressed me in the tournament, but who may be a year or two away.

      Thanks for the update on the veterans too, I haven’t had a chance to see any of the camp yet. It is good to hear that Hagelin is looking more like himself again.

      I am looking forward to the game tonight, lots of kids in the lineup.

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        September 19, 2017 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        Excellent stuff, Other Rick! Simply excellent! And great observations and comments, one and all.

        As the season draws near, the lack of a bona fide No. 3 center becomes more than just a passing concern. We’ve lost a ton of production from the bottom six (31 goals) with Bonino and Cullen departing, not to mention the penalty killing, shot blocking and faceoff work. To say nothing of all the intangibles those guys brought to the table.

        The lack of ready-made replacements, especially on the third line, is liable to put an extra load on Crosby and Malkin at a time when they really don’t need it, especially coming off back-to-back Cup runs. The presence of Bones and Cully actually enabled Sullivan to reduce Sid and Geno’s workload a bit. Can’t imagine that happening now.

        My deepest, darkest fear? What if Sid or Geno or (Heaven forbid) both sustain a serious injury? Neither are young as springtime. Geno’s missed a fair amount of games the past couple of seasons, and with Sid’s concussion history …

        Ideally, you need a No. 3 center capable of stepping into the breach and producing, not a stop gap.

        Perhaps, as Other Rick suggested in previous articles, a kid like Adam Johnson or Teddy Blueger will fast-track into a legit third-line center. But for now, it’s a major concern.

        I’ll finish by saying I have the utmost faith in Rutherford. I admire him for not pushing the panic button. Let’s hope he pulls another wabbit out of his hat … 🙂


        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          September 19, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

          Hey Rick,


          Another factor here may be the Danis Zaripov discussion. If the Pens do sign Zaripov as Malkin may be lobbying for, that certainly weighs heavy on the already over crowded Wing position, making some wings look a lot more favorable as trade bait for say a Duchene.

          I still have made my mind up on whether I would go after Zaripov, his infraction that got him banned from the KHL was for an ephedra analog, not steroids. I am not sure what kind of numbers he may be asking for but in a situation where a team may be all in for a Three-peat, signing a player with his pedigree, and a player one of your top guns is lobbying for, to make some Wing Prospects available for trade bait for a center would make sense to some.

          My biggest stumbling block is I am not sure which current wingers I would think okay for the trading block.

  2. Mike's Gravatar Mike
    September 17, 2017 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    The other Rick

    One quick point then I will wait on your response. I think the Penguins have
    a rare situation – most players overachieve when having the opportunity
    to play with a highly skilled team like the Pens. I remember when we acquired
    Bonino “we cringed” I know I dd but my point here is that if JR and the scouting
    staff do there due-diligence we’ll be making a run at another cup. We don’t need
    a star we need the perfect fit “think chemistry”!!!

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      September 17, 2017 at 11:27 pm | Permalink


      You are absolutely right, Chemistry is a big factor; Take Sheary, he has great chemistry on Crosby’s line, good enough to earn him pretty good money this off season, but as good as Malkin is, Sheary does nothing on his line.

      So, if you do like Sheahan as Rutherford and some others are suggesting may fit, I am not saying that Sullivan couldn’t drag something out of him, I am just saying the odds are against it. Furthermore, even though, like Duchene, Athanasiou is not a strict Center but a multi-position player, he would seem a much better fit on the team and easier/cheaper to acquire than Sheahan, since he is a FA and Detroit is over a Barrel with cap issues. In fact, if the Penguins do give anything up resembling draft picks or prospects for sheahan, they would only be helping Detroit sign Athanasiou by freeing up some money for them. So not only do I think the Pens would be a weaker team with Sheahan compared to Athanasiou, we would also be making Detroit stronger.

      Furthermore, the main point to my article is that the center issue is far from a small one if the Pens really are all in for a Three-peat.

  3. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    September 17, 2017 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Hey Coach,
    Sorry I have been a little preoccupied on a “business venture gone sour ” here at home and it has taken a considerable amount of my time to readjust priorities. So I have not been able to put the time into my Pen’s and the NHL competition to be fully up to date, as I once was. But I miss my friends at PP and I will adjust soon, be back better than ever..
    To the question of Centers…. We have debated and discussed this issue from almost 19 month’s from the time you correctly stated….prophetically I might add,” If we do not sign Bonino NOW it will come back to haunt us “..I am paraphrasing OTR your words…. That was one time you were dead right !!!
    That third pivot is crucial for our success !! Brandon Sutter never panned out.
    Jordan S. absolutely did..So did Bones. I simply do not see any one on our roster that can be that 70% defensive/ 30% offensive pivot with good face off numbers and willing to block shots if need be that we need. With the caliber of the NHL elite teams going up and the Pen’s going down as compared to two years ago, Coach we have a big problem. Then we add Cullen and also Kunitz. They added a dimension to our team that NONE of the newbies can. Again as a team over all competitiveness…. we lose. I want us to 3 peat….. But this team will not do it with out changes period !!!
    The rest of the cup potential winning teams in the league have gotten better, except Washington, but I never really count them any way.
    So we need a big trade in my opinion…. Great article my friend…

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      September 17, 2017 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      Good to hear from you buddy. I pray everything works out for you.

      Agreed Jim, there really isn’t anyone on the roster right now that has shown they could step up long term in that third line role. When Bones did go down, the Pens were lucky to have Cullen to fill in. Now that both are gone, no there is no proven asset in the system. Even though I liked what I saw from Johnson, he hasn’t played a pro game yet.

      What makes matters worse is that I can only see one player still open to the Pens in a trade that I can see filling that role, from both an offense and face-off perspective but Sakic is asking way to much for him. Everyone else that seems within reach has only really shown 1 of the 3 dimensions that would fill the role.

      So no matter what is being said publicly, I would think that there should be some level of scrambling going on in the Penguins front office, unless they are willing to concede a rebuilding phase.


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