Jake Guentzel

Jake Guentzel was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday for forward Michael Bunting, forward prospects Vasily Ponomarev and Ville Koivunen, the rights to forward Cruz Lucius, a conditional first-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft, and a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2024 draft.

Carolina also received defenseman Ty Smith in the trade.

The first-round selection will become a second-round selection in the 2024 draft if Carolina does not advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Pittsburgh, which will retain 25 percent of Guentzel's salary, also won't receive the fifth-round pick unless the Hurricanes win the Cup.

Guentzel has 52 points (22 goals, 30 assists) in 50 games this season but hasn't played since Feb. 14 because of an upper-body injury. However, the 29-year-old forward is skating and is eligible to come off long-term injured reserve Sunday.

"You know what the team's done in the past and how close they've been (to winning the Stanley Cup)," Guentzel said Friday. "Just obviously really excited for the opportunity, and this is a special team. They've got a lot of high-end players, and they're really well-coached. Excited to get the opportunity to play for them and see what happens from there."

Guentzel is in the final season of a five-year, $30 million contract ($6 million average annual value) he signed with Pittsburgh on Dec. 27, 2018, and can become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

"For my view of it, we made an attempt prior to the season and then, from that point on, it was just my decision to give you that view to always keep our positioning open and keep our options open,” Penguins general manager Kyle Dubas said on Friday. “So, the way I have to look at it is do I believe in the group? Yes, I do. We showed that in the summer, trying to improve it every way we can.

“We can argue about the success of those transactions and moves, that's fine. But once it starts, I always have to keep our positioning and options open. That's my job, to take care of the long-term of the group. When we couldn't get to that point, and I don't blame them for one second if they think we should have gone further, I believe Jake deserves all that he gets. So, if there is any blame to go on that, I'd take it myself. But I viewed it at that point as once we got to a certain level, that we had to then go through the year and see the way that the year went, in the event that we were in the spot that we're in or had a lot of injuries and weren't in the mix, that we had the ability to move either Jake or others to begin to recoup some assets. So, I mean, I don't expect people to agree with it. He's a very popular player in the room and in the community. I think in this position, you have to make these types of decisions knowing they're not going to be popular to anybody. That's part of the job. It can be lonely. A lot of people can be upset at you a lot as you go along, but you still have to make the decisions that you think are best for the group regardless of how they're perceived and do what's right for the Penguins."

Guentzel's name had been brought up in trade rumors since February, when Dubas said he could be dealt in order to add youth to Pittsburgh's roster, which is the oldest in the NHL (30.8).

“I haven't been here with Jake for as long as folks in the room have, folks in our facility have been, but obviously the impact he's made has been immense,” Dubas said. “Tremendous competitor, an excellent hockey player, excellent person, a great member of the community. We could stand up here forever and talk about Jake, especially those that who have been here longest. It's a tough decision and a difficult one to make."

Selected by the Penguins in the third round (No. 77) of the 2013 NHL Draft, Guentzel has 466 points (219 goals, 247 assists) in 503 regular-season games. He also has 58 points (34 goals, 24 assists) in 58 Stanley Cup Playoff games, including helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2017.

"He's a great player, great teammate. A friend," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "I think he did everything he possibly could in his time here. Just a privilege to play with him for the course of that time. Great memories. It was just a privilege, like I said."

Smith, who was selected by the New Jersey Devils in the first round (No. 17) of the 2018 NHL Draft, has 32 points (nine goals, 23 assists) in 51 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.

The 23-year-old has 47 points (eight goals, 39 assists) in 123 NHL games.

The Hurricanes (37-19-6), who defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Thursday, are in second place in the Metropolitan Division, four points behind the New York Rangers.

"Jake is an elite goal-scorer and playmaker who has produced at a high level for his entire NHL career," Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said. "Ty is a young, offensive-minded defenseman who will provide us with another reliable option on the blue line. We’re thrilled to bolster our lineup as we compete to bring the Stanley Cup back to Raleigh."

On Friday, Carolina acquired forward Evgeny Kuznetsov from the Washington Capitals for a third-round pick in the 2025 NHL Draft.

The 31-year-old, who has 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 43 games this season, has one season remaining after this one on an eight-year, $62.4 million contract ($7.8 million average annual value) he signed with Washington on July 2, 2017.

Bunting has 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists) in 60 games this season, his first with the Hurricanes after signing a three-year, $13.5 million contract ($4.5 million AAV) on July 1.

Selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the fourth round (No. 117) of the 2014 NHL Draft, the 28-year-old forward has 162 points (70 goals, 92 assists) in 247 regular-season games with the Coyotes, Toronto Maple Leafs and Hurricanes. He also has five points (two goals, three assists) in 13 playoff games.

Ponomarev, who was selected by Carolina in the second round (No. 53) of the 2020 NHL Draft, has two points (one goal, one assist) in two NHL games this season. The 21-year-old also has 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) in 41 AHL games with Chicago and Tucson.

Koivunen, 20, was selected in the second round (No. 51) in the 2021 NHL Draft. He has 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists) in 57 games with Karpat in Liiga, Finland's top professional league.

Lucius, 19, was selected in the fourth round (No. 124) of the 2022 NHL Draft. He leads the University of Wisconsin with 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 32 games as a sophomore.

The Penguins (28-25-8) are in danger of missing the playoffs for the second straight season after qualifying in each of the previous 16. They are eight points behind the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning, who are tied for the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

"It's kind of the only place I've known in professional hockey. I grew up kind of here," Guenztel said of his time in Pittsburgh. "The last seven and a half years have been pretty special. I got to play alongside some unbelievable players, but this is just the business when you don't win. Sometimes it's part of the game and it's going to happen when situations come like this. So, happy to be going to a good spot like Carolina and just glad it worked out."

NHL.com independent correspondent Wes Crosby contributed to this report