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Penguins encouraged by roster makeover, GM says

Rutherford discusses Malkin bounce-back, Metropolitan Division parity in wide-ranging conversation with NHL.com

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

BUFFALO -- Jim Rutherford said the makeup of the Pittsburgh Penguins this season in some ways resembles that of the Penguins team that won the Stanley Cup in 2016.

"We have a lineup this year that's more like the lineup we had in 2016 where there's more options for the coach to move guys around," the Penguins general manager said Saturday at the Prospects Challenge at HarborCenter. "We have a fourth line that will be able to play as a third line, so (coach) Mike Sullivan will be able to roll the lines more and not worry about who they're out there against.

"It was time to make a few changes to bring some fresh energy, and based on what I saw over the offseason and talking to different players and people in the organization and the guys who come in early, we've accomplished that."

The Penguins finished third in the Metropolitan Division (44-26-12) but were swept by the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference First Round, prompting Rutherford to reshape the roster. They traded Phil Kessel, who had 303 points (110 goals, 193 assists) during his four seasons in Pittsburgh, to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph on June 29, two weeks after trading defenseman Olli Maatta to the Chicago Blackhawks for 24-year-old forward Dominik Kahun.

Video: 31 in 31: Pittsburgh Penguins 2019-20 season preview

"We made the changes that we needed to make, bring in some new energy and we feel good about it," Rutherford said. "The closer we get to camp, I see a lot more excitement not only in the players but the coaching staff and everybody in the organization, and that's really what we need."

Rutherford discussed the Penguins' outlook in an interview with NHL.com.

 

What do you expect from Evgeni Malkin this season?

"My expectation is for him to be one of the top players in the League. He got off to a great start last year but his play dropped off a little bit as the season went along. I've talked to him and [Mike] went and met with him in the summer. He looks great. He's anxious to get going, so no concerns. He'll be the Evgeni Malkin we expect. When I saw him, I said hello and asked about the meeting that [Mike] had with him earlier in the summer, about his preparation for what he was doing in the offseason and the expectations. It's my understanding the meeting went very well."

 

How much will you miss Kessel?

"You don't replace Phil, for what he did for us. Over the years he was here, he was an impact player that could change the game at any time and was a major factor in us winning the Stanley Cup twice (2016, 2017). Certainly, to have a younger player of Galchenyuk's ability, who's already scored 30 goals (2015-16), between what he does and some of the other changes we've made, we can make up for Phil not being here."

Video: Phil Kessel on joining the Coyotes, expectations

 

What do you make of all the moves within the Metropolitan Division this season and how competitive your division has become?

"It's the same for everybody. The further we go into the salary cap system, there's more parity and teams that had cap space this year took advantage of it, made their team better and they're getting higher picks. To me, the gap in not only our division but the whole League has tightened."

 

What is it about forward Brandon Tanev that convinced you to sign him to a six-year contract this offseason?

"He brings speed, is an energy guy and someone you can win with. He plays hard in all ends of the rink and goes to the net, which is a little bit something that we've been lacking in the last year or two. We obviously felt strong about it with the contract we gave him. I talked to my good friend (Winnipeg Jets coach) Paul Maurice about him and he was sorry that they lost him, but he can make a difference on our team without expecting to score 20-to-25 goals."

 

Any concerns with your goalie Matt Murray?

"I don't have any concerns about him at all. Right from Day One, when he came in, he was a major factor for us when we won back-to-back championships in 2016 and '17. You know, there was a little growing curve there where he was put in a little different situation, but he's worked his way through that, so I don't have any concerns. He's one of the real quality goalies in the League."

Video: Top 10 saves of 2018-19: Murray

 

Why did you make the trade for Kahun?

"He's a guy who can play all three forward positions. He played with (Blackhawks center) Jonathan Toews last year, so I think the coach is going to give him the chance to play with one of our top two centers (Sidney Crosby and Malkin) and we'll see where it goes. But he can move around in the lineup, which is really nice for us."

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