A Penguins trade seems likely, what could it address?

Marcus Pettersson #28 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Marcus Pettersson #28 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

With players due to return off the IR and a key player placed on the LTIR, the Penguins’ roster faces some pressing questions. Who’s in danger of being traded?

A lot of factors point to the Pittsburgh Penguins making a trade (or several) before the April 12 deadline, perhaps none more so than Brian Burke, president of hockey operations, saying the Pens will probably make a few moves.

Brian Dumoulin returned to practice Wednesday with a regular contact jersey after a lengthy IR stay, and now the Penguins’ blueline is so crowded that not even Sidney Crosby could navigate through it. The left side of the ice, especially now with Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, Mike Matheson and Mark Friedman all in the picture, is jam-packed.

The returns of Evan Rodrigues and Mark Jankowski are… nice, but neither figure to actually impact the lineup much as Jankowski has done nothing but kill penalties and Rodrigues has been a non-factor this season.

The fourth line players this season have combined for a handful of points while playing minimal minutes per game. Which has led to the Pens basically rolling out three lines this season.

Tristan Jarry has been the Penguins’ most consistent player since the Pens beat the Washington Capitals on Valentine’s Day, and with a .928 save percentage in the seven games since, Jarry has been among the best in the NHL. However, providing Jarry with a veteran backup — no knock on DeSmith — could still potentially be in the works.

With Jason Zucker placed on the long-term injured reserve, one of Brandon Tanev, Zach Aston-Reese or Jared McCann will likely slot onto the second line, once Crosby is off of the COVID list, and that’ll just create holes elsewhere in the lineup.

There are a lot of areas to fix, but the most pressing comes on the second line, the fourth line and shoring up the defensive pairings.

The fourth line has been… non-existent

Jankowski, Sam Lafferty, Drew O’Connor and Colton Sceviour have not been unplayable this season, but with Jankowski being the only player listed killing penalties, they haven’t done nearly enough as none of them have contributed consistently on the score sheet.

Jankowski has just three points in 18 games, Lafferty has one point in 15 games, O’Connor has one point in nine games and Sceviour has two points in 16 games. That’s not good enough to compete in the ultra-competitive East division this season.

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Players like Anthony Angello and Josh Currie have been plugged into the lineup at times from the taxi squad, with neither finding the score sheet in their four combined games with the Pens.

The yearly Baby Penguins infusion of talent is not coming either because it’s already here, with Lafferty and O’Connor serving as the young guns from the AHL and college hockey this season. O’Connor looks like he needs some AHL seasoning before fighting for a roster spot next season, and Lafferty simply hasn’t taken the expected step after a promising rookie season.

Both O’Connor and Lafferty are likely still in the Penguins’ plans moving forward, with Sceviour and Jankowski more likely to serve as throw-ins in potential trades, but all four could be added in a trade for a middle-six winger if need be.

Who’s the odd man out on defense?

The right side defensive anchors in Kris Letang, John Marino and Cody Ceci seem to be pretty sturdy.. for now. Letang has been a lightning-rod this season, but he’s played his best hockey of the season over the past handful of games. Marino hasn’t been flashy this season, but he’s been a steadying presence while logging huge minutes. Ceci has been far better than advertised, playing very, very good hockey of late; let’s hope it can last.

The left side of the defense has more questions. Dumoulin, Matheson and Pierre-Olivier Joseph would be the ideal lineup. And with Dumoulin healthy again, he can slot into the top pairing with Letang. Marino and Matheson have been a strong pairing this season, a Letang-Dumo lite, if you will. That leaves Joseph, who is currently parked on the taxi squad since he’s the only defender on a two-way deal. In his spot is Marcus Pettersson.

Pettersson, who has been a good but not great defender for the Penguins, hasn’t looked good since returning to the lineup after suffering an injury off a hit from Capitals forward T.J. Oshie earlier this season. With Dumoulin and Joseph likely locks and Matheson holding a hefty, seemingly tough-to-trade contract, that leaves Pettersson as potential trade fodder.

With a glut of 6/7 defensemen in Friedman, Chad Ruhwedel and Juuso Riikola, there is some depth there. And Pettersson looks to be the one looking in.

Finding a top-six replacement

With Zucker out for at least 10 games, the Penguins need a short-term, and potentially long-term. fix on the second line.

Crosby, Malkin, Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel and Kasperi Kapanen are locked in the top-six, but that vacated spot on Malkin’s wing right now could go to McCann, Aston-Reese or Tanev.

McCann is the likely short-term fit, and he has shown flashes of brilliance during his brief Penguins’ tenure, but he’s never been able to nail down a spot anywhere in the lineup. He’s not really a center, as much as the Pens would like him to be, and he doesn’t have a fit at center now as the only opening is on the fourth line. He’s played as a winger a majority of his time with the Pens, but he’s only ever been consistently inconsistent.

If the Penguins make a move for a middle-six player, McCann will likely be the man to be traded.

He’s young enough to still have his best years ahead of him, and he’s got a lot of natural skill; it might just take a change of scenery to get the most out of him.

So, it seems like McCann, Pettersson, and most of the fourth line players are the natural fits to included in trades this season. Of course, GM Ron Hextall and Burke aren’t necessarily loyal to anyone on this team.

Could Hextall and Burke swing for the fences and move one of Malkin or Letang? Maybe. Could they package Samuel Poulin and go for another impact player? Sure. This deadline will likely be the turning point for the Penguins in Crosby/Malkin era.

A missed playoff would all but end the era at this point, and a third of the way, the Pens are currently on the outside looking in.

Read up on the Pens' win over the Flyers on Tuesday. dark. Next

What would you like to see the Pens address in the trade market? Let me know in the comments below!