Penguins Update: Centers of Attention – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Update: Centers of Attention

What do Brian Boyle, David Desharnais, Sam Gagner, Martin Hanzal, Dominic Moore and Joe Thornton have in common?

If you answered all were free-agent centers who recently signed with other NHL teams, you’d be correct.

Indeed, the days slip by. And the list of external candidates to fill the Penguins’ vacant third-line center spot keeps dwindling.

The latest to be scratched from the list? Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk. The 23-year-old Milwaukee native signed a three-year deal yesterday with the Canadiens worth $4.9 million per season.

While the Pens still appear to be in the hunt for Colorado’s Matt Duchene, talks for now have cooled. In fact, GM Jim Rutherford hinted yesterday that he could be looking at internal options to fill the voids down the middle.

Prompted by a question from Mike, one of our regular PenguinPoop commenters, I thought I’d take a peek at those options.

Matt Cullen (6’1” 200, 40)

It’s possible the venerable vet—nicknamed “Team Dad”—will be back for another go with the Pens. He’s also being pursued by his home state team, the Minnesota Wild, rumored to have offered him a two-year deal.

Despite his advanced age—Cullen turns 41 on November 2—he can still play. Remarkably quick and competitive for his years, Matt scored 29 goals over the past two regular seasons and six more during the postseason. Still an excellent penalty killer, he won 51.2 percent of his faceoffs in ’16-17.

Cullen’s also capable of filling in on the top two lines, or at left wing, in a pinch. Which, in a way, makes him an ideal No. 3 center.

Chances are good that Cullen won’t announce his decision until later in the summer. He signed his initial deal with the black and gold on August 6. Last summer he came to terms on August 17. So there’s liable to be a bit of a wait.

May 21, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA;Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Carter Rowney (37) celebrates after the Penguins score a goal against the Ottawa Senators during the first period in game five of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports

Carter Rowney (6’2” 208, 28)

Rutherford suggested that he and the coaching staff would be more than comfortable moving ahead with Rowney as the club’s fourth-line center. In fact, he seems committed to it.

Rowney, who also can play right wing, was a revelation during the recent Cup run. The 28-year-old rookie won 51 percent of his draws and finished tied for second among playoff performers with 80 hits. He’s defensively diligent, skates well and is ultra-responsible with the puck (only two giveaways during the postseason).

While scoring could be an issue, Rowney has a documented history of hiking his output at each level over time.

All-in-all, he fits the profile of a fourth-line center to a T.

What If?

Okay. So what happens if Cullen elects to retire or sign with another team, and JR’s unable to trade for a suitable replacement?

A major concern, no doubt. However, the Pens aren’t totally bereft of internal options.

While it’s highly unlikely coach Mike Sullivan would move Jake Guentzel from his perch on Sidney Crosby’s portside, Jake is a natural center.

Here are some other candidates to fill the third-line center spot.

Jean-Sebastien Dea (5’11” 175, 23)

A right-handed shot like the great Mario Lemieux, Dea is a speedy, clever playmaker who excels in open ice. With 38 goals at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton over the past two seasons, he also possesses a nose for the net. Dea can contribute on special teams as well.

Size and strength…or a lack of…could be an issue at the big-league level.

Dominik Simon (5’11” 176, 22)

Simon and Dea have a lot in common, from their smallish builds to offensive flair. In particular, Simon excels as a playmaker. A 46-point scorer with the Baby Pens in ’16-17, he’s especially adept at making short, crisp passes in traffic. Given his diminutive frame, the Czech native’s surprisingly effective along the wall. Versatile, he’s also capable of playing left wing.

Again, his comparatively small stature and lack of physical prowess could mitigate his overall effectiveness in the NHL.

Teddy Blueger (6’0” 185, 22)

Hailing from Riga, Latvia, Blueger probably fits the traditional mold of a classic third-line center more closely than Dea or Simon. He’s a little bigger, for one. And his plus-24 rating—seventh best in the AHL last season—indicate a strong defensive conscience.

He’s good on faceoffs, isn’t afraid to bump and grind, and can be used in a variety of situations. With 31 points in 54 games, Blueger possesses some skill, too.

Most likely, he’ll require more seasoning with the Baby Pens.

Thomas DiPauli (5’11” 188, 23)

A former fourth-round choice of Washington, DiPauli was a teammate of Bryan Rust’s at Notre Dame. He plays a similar style, too. That is, fast, aggressive on the forecheck and tenacious on the puck.

Could he enjoy similar success in the NHL?

A tough call. DiPauli’s first pro season at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was virtually ruined by back surgery and a thumb injury, which limited the Italian-born center to a paltry two goals in 21 games.

Still, the attributes are there.

Nikita Pavlychev (6’7” 211, 20)

Although he won’t be joining the black and gold anytime soon, the kid’s worth mentioning on the basis of size alone.

Best described as a raw talent, Pavlychev provides an obvious physical presence that the other young centers don’t. Not surprising, skating and foot speed are possible hindrances, especially if the former seventh-round pick hopes to progress up the hockey ladder.

For now, he’s honing his skills at Penn State.

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  1. July 6, 2017 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Also, I believe the Leafs are in a cap pickle. Kadri’s name has been tossed around.
    Perhaps Kadri could be had for say Pouliot & a high draft pick or prospect. That would get them out of cap trouble and possible benefit both teams.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      July 6, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      I just looked on Cap friendly and the Leafs are actually $3mil over the Cap.

      I hadn’t realized that the Leafs were the best example I could have used when I talked about FA over-spending.

      Kadri does have the scoring touch but how is he in the FO circle?

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      July 6, 2017 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      Hey Phil and Other Rick,

      I’d love to have Kadri. Talented, driven and feisty. Blew up Brooks Orpik with a huge check in the playoffs after Brooksie hurt one of his teammates. That tells you all about his character.

      But…and it’s an ENORMOUS but. Four-and-a-half mil a year, with two million in bonuses stacked on top, for the next five years.

      Ouch … 🙁


      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        July 6, 2017 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

        He isn’t cheap, but then again neither is Duchene at $6mil and he is younger. I am not saying it is a must deal but with the fact that Toronto is over the Cap right now and with like 7 or 8 players on their roster that can play C, he might be had, particularly if they are entertaining a long term deal for Matthews like McDavid jusr got.

        It may be something the Pens should look into.

        • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
          July 6, 2017 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

          Like I said, I’d love to have him.

          Talented and plays with a little bit of an edge. I wouldn’t mind adding a touch of mustard, especially with Kunitz gone.


  2. July 6, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I have also heard a tiny squeak that Edmonton may be lightly shopping Nugent-Hopkins. They are looking more for experience than prospects could be a better trade. If there was ever a player I thought had tons of skill & potential, it is him.

    I could see the Pens moving Hagelin, Pouliot & 3rd rnd draft pick there for Nuge.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      July 6, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      That is really interesting, When I first read that McDavid signed an extension for $10mil per year I started wondering what they were going to do next and particularly wondering about the availability of Nugent-Hopkins.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        July 6, 2017 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

        Hey Coach,
        Been away all day…Just got home.10 pm.
        McDavid signed for 100 million for 8 years…12.5 million per year.
        He left 1 million on the table….It was a publicity stunt by his agent to gather good press. Kind of a home town discount.
        It still is crazy number and will have long term effects on our game.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      July 6, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      Interesting, Phil.

      Nugent-Hopkin’s numbers have never stacked up to the player he was supposed to be when he was taken first overall in 2011. Yet I think he’s had a chance to fill out his game by playing more of a secondary role the last couple of years.

      Sure sounds like a Pens-style, reclamation success story in waiting, doesn’t he?


      • July 6, 2017 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        From what it sounds like, the Habs are making a push for him.

        • Jim's Gravatar Jim
          July 6, 2017 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

          Hey Phil,
          Montreal made their own bed and now they are going to have to lay in it. There is a team that has some serious issues now and in the future.Cap wise and talent wise and a fan base that can be a little “Vocal” from time to time. Personally, there is a strong belief that many players will NOT play in Montreal because of the crazy tax system they have as a province and the intense media pressure generated there.
          RNH has been mishandled by Edmonton like many of their high draft picks in the past 8 years or so. 18-19 year old kids playing in the very physical western conference can be very intimidating and really affect their over all development as a player. I would love to RNH, but 6 million is not chump change.
          I would rather see a 4 million dollar 3rd line center and put the rest of the money to upgrade the left wing for GENO.
          How about you ?

  3. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    July 6, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    Good look at the kids in the system. Did you see that the Pens signed another College FA, Adam Johnson? From the blurb on the NHL website, he could be someone to watch once training camp starts to compete from within for a spot at C. Apparently he can play all 3 Fwd positions and even filled in on D when needed while piling up 24G and 55Pnts in his 2yrs and 81games at Minnesota-Duluth. More than likely he will start in WBS but just throwing that out there. There are always some surprises in September.


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