Yesterday was part one and it covered the players who are most valuable to the team; today’s preview goes over the Penguins whose trade value with the team is the lowest. Tomorrow, the players who are the most likely candidates for a trade.
In adding Oleksiak, the Penguins now have three defensemen, including Ruhwedel and Hunwick, for one spot on the bench.
The Penguins acquired Oleksiak from the Stars for a fourth round pick next year, which is a paltry sum for a lefty defenseman who’s a big body and skates well. In limited action, he’s been more than just that, with possession metrics better than he’s had in years, and he’s scored goals in two of the last four games. I’m not sure what the Stars thought they had with Oleksiak, but they certainly didn’t use him enough to appreciate him; Oleksiak’s eighteen minutes of average ice time is 3:15 more than Dallas gave him. It’s a small sample size, but it’s looking good so far.
Ruhwedel is four games away from matching his career high of 34 from last year, and it’s been a mixed bag. On the one hand, his possession numbers are better than they’ve ever been, although his offensive numbers are tracking lower than last year. He’s already taken more shots than his career high, but his average time on ice is below his career average. His primary pairmate has been Maatta, but he’s also been paired with Dumoulin and Cole, which could be why he’s not performing quite as well as last year. He’s also been used less in shorthanded situations, and hasn’t been effective when he has been used.
Beyond the top four defensemen, Hunwick has the next-highest time on ice despite appearing in fewer games than Cole and Ruhwedel. He has found himself paired with a bunch of different teammates throughout the season: primarily with Maatta, but stretches with Cole, Schultz, Dumoulin, and lately even Oleksiak. While he has more points than Ruhwedel and an identical plus-minus, his possession numbers are the worst of all the defensemen on the team. His offensive rates are also way down from even last year in Toronto. He’s way overpaid for what the Penguins are getting from him relative to what you’d expect, and he’s paid as much as Cole.
Acquired from the Red Wings fairly early in the season, Sheahan has been a relatively bright spot for the Penguins thus far. As one of two Penguins with a positive plus-minus (Schultz), he’s on pace for a better offensive season than last year, and his possession numbers are more or less back on track from where they were a few years ago. Perhaps he would contribute more offensively if given the time and opportunity: in his best offensive year in 2014-15, 58.6% of his zone starts were on offense; this year he’s on track for 34.4%. But, as has been pointed out, he’s roughly replacing Nick Bonino as the third-line center in terms of metrics, which is, at the very least, good enough; probably better than what anyone expected from Scott Wilson. Nevertheless, many are hoping the Penguins will acquire someone to bump Sheahan down to the fourth line.
Hagelin’s been a bit maligned here in his second full season in Pittsburgh, although with all the offensive woes around the team I’m not sure it’s fair to pick on him. Certainly, Hags has now played as many games as he did in Anaheim the year the Penguins acquired him, and he has half as many points to go with it. In his defense however, I would point out that his possession metrics are roughly on track with his career numbers, and he’s had way more defensive zone starts than he has since that brief stint in Anaheim. At $4 million a year, that’s really the main knock against him right now, but it’s possible that he could turn things around, either by being traded or just by being patient. After all, I don’t think anyone expected the Penguins to be where they are right now in terms of even strength, nor does anyone expect them to stay there and I don’t think it’s hard to imagine Hagelin being able to contribute if and when they do turn the corner.
Playing as the #4 center on the depth chart, Rowney had a relatively heavier start than his linemates, averaging 12 minutes per game in the first 13 games he played. Since then the ice time has dried up a bit as he’s now averaging 9 minutes per game. It’s an interesting turnaround since the team is starting to improve of late, but it didn’t help that Guentzel has been taking shifts away from him. Rowney’s played as many games as he did last season but his lower productivity, possession numbers, and even less aggressive play perhaps make him less appealing. I guess the good news is that his face-off rate has improved.
I’m a bit disappointed in Kuhnhackl, even as far as fourth liners go, but it could be a result of a lack of Sullivan’s confidence in the fourth line. Still, Kuhnhackl’s possession numbers are way down compared to the last two years, which in turn doesn’t help inspire confidence from the coach either. He is doing some of the things that will help him stay in his role (hits, blocked shots, takeaways all up), but on a team that needs offense, he’s providing less than needed. Of course, then you have games like January 2 against the Flyers where he gets his most ice time since November, and a goal and an assist along with it, and if he keeps that up, he and his linemates might get more ice time to spell the rest of the forwards.
The same could be said for Reaves. He also potted a goal and an assist against the Flyers in his busiest night since November, and you could be forgiven for thinking that a corner might be turning for those hapless fourth liners. But let’s not be too hasty in announcing Reaves’ arrival; those were just his second goal and third assist of the season, and it’s hardly the offense that Reaves was brought on for anyway. On a team that needs better goal prevention, he’s not helping do that job even with the few minutes he gets. He’s Jim Rutherford’s pet project, and he’s a great personality, both of which are fine, but until the Penguins do start showing signs of improving, his ice time will and should continue to be limited.