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Penguins deal Whitney to Ducks for Kunitz, prospect

by Shawn P. Roarke
For the second-straight year, the Pittsburgh Penguins obtained a talented forward through a late-season trade to ride shotgun for Sidney Crosby

Six days before the NHL's trade deadline -- which falls at 3 p.m. ET Wednesday, March 4 -- Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero nabbed Anaheim's Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi in exchange for puck-moving defenseman Ryan Whitney.

Last season, also on Feb. 26, Shero also paid a hefty price to Atlanta to obtain Marian Hossa from the Thrashers, a move that helped propel the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final.

Shero paid a pretty decent price this time, as well, in making Thursday's trade. Kunitz, a 29-year-old left wing that is working on his third-straight 20-goal season, was imported to be a first-line scoring option for a team that needs goal scorers in a major way.

In fact, both teams needed the jolt that this trade provides.

A lack of consistent scoring has crippled the Penguins in their bid to defend the Eastern Conference crown they won in high-flying fashion last season. Eight teams in the NHL have scored more goals than the Penguins, who feature the top two point-getters in the League in Evgeni Malkin and Crosby. As a result, the Penguins sit in 10th place in the East, but are just two points eighth-place Buffalo.

"I think Kunitz is going to jump right in and be a top-six guy for us," Shero told before the team departed on a road trip. "So I think it's a good message that here is a guy that’s done not only for this year but moving forward. So Kunitz is going to help us right away in our top six and, like I said, I like the way he plays the game.

"He's been a leader and he’ll jump right into our group here and help out. And then, of course, with the bigger picture in mind, he's signed moving forward for an additional three years and that's important. He plays a physical brand of hockey and that's what we’re looking to ad to our line up and he has the character that I'm looking for as well."

Interim coach Dan Bylsma, who took over for Michel Therrien arlier this month, knows all about Kunitz after having served as an assitant coach in Anaheim during Kunitz's time there. Bylsma can't wait to introduce Kunitz into the Penguins' mix.

"With Chris Kunitz coming here, he’s got 148 hits and he’s a top-six guy," said Bylsma. "He drives to the net and creates space for people. He’s a pretty speedy guy up front. Immediately that’s what you can expect from Chris Kunitz.

"I've played with him and coached him. That’s what he does. He’s straight forward. He goes and gets pucks. He drives to the net. He’s around the net a lot so you’ll find him there, getting goals and creating space for people."

Kunitz's former team, Anaheim, hasn’t resembled the team that won the 2007 Stanley Cup -- also struggling to score and getting inconsistent goaltending. The Ducks sit in 10th place in the West, one of four teams tied with 65 points. They are just three points out of fifth place.

Whitney, 26, had 137 points in his first three NHL seasons before missing half the 2008-09 season after undergoing foot surgery in the offseason. The No. 5 pick in the 2002 Entry Draft, Whitney returned to action Dec. 23 and has 13 points in the 28 games he has played this season.

The Penguins have been in the market for a scoring winger for most of this season after being unable to fill a lack of scoring on the wing after Hossa walked away as a free agent last summer, joining the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings and severely limiting the return on the deal that saw Shero ship roster players Colby Armstrong and Eric Christensen, plus former first-round pick Angelo Esposito and Pittsburgh's No. 1 pick in 2008, which was used to select Daulton Leveille, to Atlanta.

Aside from Crosby and Malkin, right wing Petr Sykora is the only other player on the Penguin roster that can claim more goals than the 16 Kunitz has put up this season. Malkin leads the team with 27, followed by Crosby and Sykora at 23 apiece.

Whitney became expendable with the recent return of power-play QB Sergei Gonchar, who had missed more than half the season with a shoulder injury, as well as the continued improvement of young offensive defensemen Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski.

"I think with the emergence of Kris Letang, and of course with Gonchar coming back and with Alex Goligoski and his development this year, it gave us one extra defenseman in terms of trying to get a top six forward, which I think we have with Chis Kunitz," Shero said.

And, not only do the Penguins get immediate forward help in the form of Kunitz, but Shero also fortified his team's depth with the addition of Tangradi, a 20-year-old forward with the Belleville Bulls in the Ontario Hockey League. Tangradi, from Philadelphia, is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and has 38 goals this season in 52 games with the Bulls. He was a second-round choice by Anaheim in the 2007 Entry Draft.

"Also with Eric, he is a guy our scouts just really liked, especially his draft year, and he’s having a great year in Belleville this year."

Shero believes the sky is the limit for Tangradi, who played for Team USA in the 2009 World Junior Championships.

"He'll be ready to turn pro next year," Shero said. "He's a big left winger, 6-4, and he’s the type of prospect we like to add to our group moving forward. Waiting on the other part of the deal, which was Tangradi, which was the big part for us as well. This is something that just this morning kind of happened."

Interestingly, this move also fuels the already rampant speculation that the Ducks may be trying to move either Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer, both veteran offensive defensemen. With Whitney in the fold, Anaheim GM Bob Murray could put one of his two hot commodities on the open market to see what return could be exacted.

Pittsburgh contributed to this report.

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