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Penguins' plan after Zucker trade debated by NHL.com

Writers split on whether Pittsburgh needs to do more before deadline

NHL.com @NHLdotcom

The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired forward Jason Zucker in a trade with the Minnesota Wild on Monday for forward Alex Galchenyuk, defenseman prospect Calen Addison and a conditional first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. 

But do the Penguins (34-15-6), who trail the Washington Capitals by three points for first in the Metropolitan Division, need to do more before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. ET, or is landing Zucker enough to make them one of the favorites to win the 2020 Stanley Cup? 

We asked five NHL.com writers that question. 

Here are their thoughts:

 

Tracey Myers, staff writer

The Penguins don't need to make another move past acquiring Zucker. They're in good shape. I watch the Penguins from afar and every time they've had an injury, I expected it to break this team. But it hasn't.

Every important player on the roster, from forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist to defensemen Kris Letang, Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin, has been injured at some point this season. Forward Jake Guentzel has been out since Dec. 31 and forward Nick Bjugstad has played 10 games. 

Yet the Penguins have not missed a beat and are one of the four best teams in a loaded Eastern Conference. The Penguins find answers, either from those already on the roster or from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes Barre/Scranton. The Penguins are fine. Don't do too much and upset what you've got in Pittsburgh, which is a team that will find a way to do damage in the postseason.

 

Mike G. Morreale, staff writer

With or without Zucker, I still would have considered the Penguins a Stanley Cup contender because they always seem to be that team capable of defying the odds. 

It's no surprise they pulled the trigger to acquire a player of Zucker's tenacity and skill, particularly with Guentzel out for the season following shoulder surgery. Zucker is fast, responsible in his own end and possesses a goal-scorer's mentality. He's going to be a good fit on left wing alongside Crosby where his job will be to play smart, anticipate and find ways to get the captain the puck at all costs -- much like Chris Kunitz did for nine seasons. 

The Penguins gave up a lot, most notably Addison, an offensive defenseman with fantastic upside, but Zucker, who has 29 points (14 goals, 15 assists) in 46 games this season and scored 33 goals in 2017-18, has three more seasons on his contract and is worth the risk because he significantly improves their top-six. It wouldn't surprise me if the Penguins win the Metropolitan Division and make even more noise in the playoffs.

 

Dan Rosen, senior writer

The Penguins might be good enough the way their roster is currently set but might be is not good enough for general manager Jim Rutherford. He and the Penguins are not done yet, nor should they be. The Penguins could use additional help on defense, especially with the injuries to Dumoulin (lower body, missed 28 straight games) and John Marino (surgery to repair facial fractures, out 3-6 weeks). They have no cushion on the blue line, so I expect the Penguins will find a way to address that by getting a depth defenseman. It doesn't have to be a major move, but they'd benefit from getting some insurance at that position.

 

Mike Zeisberger, staff writer

Why stop now? From the time he was hired by Pittsburgh on June 6, 2014, general manager Jim Rutherford has preached taking advantage of the window to win with two franchise players -- Crosby and Malkin -- on the roster. With Guentzel out the rest of the season, there was a hole on Crosby's wing and it has been filled by Zucker.

Since Rutherford became GM, the Penguins have had a first-round pick in two of seven NHL drafts (including 2020) -- forward Kasperi Kapanen (2014, now with the Toronto Maple Leafs) and forward Samuel Poulin (2019). 

Though many teams coddle first-round picks, the Penguins use them as trade capital to build around Crosby and Malkin. It's a recipe that resulted in Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017. The Penguins might not have much draft capital left, but don't count them out improving the depth up front and on the blue line in quest of a third title.

 

Shawn P. Roarke, Senior Director of Editorial

In the wake of the Zucker trade, the Penguins are good enough to win the Stanley Cup. The scary part for their rivals is that they were likely good enough to win it before the trade. They are deep down the middle, have a franchise defenseman in Letang, along with complementary pieces in Dumoulin and Marino, when healthy, and have one of the best goalie tandems in the League with Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry. The even scarier thought is that they will likely get better before the deadline. 

Defensive depth is on the must-do list, but don't be surprised if another forward is on the wanted list as well. The Penguins may fall short of winning the Stanley Cup for the third time since 2016, but it won't be from a lack of trying on the part an aggressive front office.

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