The Pittsburgh Penguins were the second-youngest team in the NHL on Monday.
That changed Tuesday as the team acquired Gary Roberts from Florida for Noah Welch.
Roberts, 40, brings a wealth of experience – and a history of success – to a young Penguins squad in the midst of a tight Eastern Conference playoff race.
“We’re excited. It’s great news for our club to get a guy like Gary Roberts,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “He has a lot of experience. He’s been recognized as a hard guy to play against. He has a lot of character. He reminds me a little bit of my time in Montreal when one of our better players was 40 years old in Doug Gilmour. He stepped up his game and was virtually one of the best players on the ice in the playoffs against the Bruins. Those guys, beside the skill and talent they have, are the kinds of players who have a lot of pride. It’s going to be a good thing for those young kids to learn from players like that.
“The race to make the playoffs is tight. We’re thinking that adding a player like this will help. We want to win and be a part of that playoff group. Right now, we put ourselves in a position to be there.”
Indeed. While Roberts brings experience, he also brings talent – which made him a good fit for the Penguins, according to general manager Ray Shero.
“He just plays the game the way it’s meant to be played this time of year. That’s why we’ve identified him as a guy we wanted to add to our forward group and play with that kind of youthful enthusiasm so we’re looking forward to having him,” he said. “I think his biggest impact is going to be on the ice. He can still play the game and he’s going to have a significant effect there. Of course with our younger players and with the help of guys like Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar and Jocelyn Thibault and our other veteran players, I think he’s going to be a help there. When our players see the preparation that goes into what he’s been through for his career with all the games played and playoff series, I think that will only benefit our guys in the future.”
Roberts has 424 goals, 451 assists and 2,467 penalty minutes in 19 NHL seasons. The left winger had 13 goals, 16 assists and 71 PIMs in 50 games with the Panthers this season.
“I think he’s well-respected. He’s very physical and he’s a hard guy to play against,” Penguins winger Mark Recchi said. “He scores goals and he can do whatever you need him to do. I think it’s a perfect fit for our hockey club right now.
“It’s nice to be buyers, definitely. I think Ray’s done a terrific job identifying the type of people he wants to bring in here. I think he’s done a great job,” he continued. “Ray had a big impact on Gary. I know they spoke for some time [Monday] and I think he answered of lot of Gary’s questions. Ray is a very smart, intelligent man. He’s a very good hockey person and he’s definitely doing great things for us.”
It was not easy for Shero to deal away Welch, one of the Penguins’ top defensive prospects.
“I like Noah. I think he’s going to play in the NHL and be a good player. But, I think anytime you’re trying to pick up a Gary Roberts, you have to give up something – a significant asset – and I think Noah is that,” he said. “I think we’re fortunate here in Pittsburgh that Craig Patrick and his staff did well and we have some guys coming. We can only do this if we have the means to replace a Noah Welch and we think we do.
“I’ve been trying, if we were going to do something, to not subtract from the hockey club, if possible. I am happy we were able to do that. But, I am sad we had to give up a Noah Welch who I liked as a player and certainly liked as a kid. But, I think it’s a real good move for us at this point,” he continued. “Gary Roberts is 40 years old and Noah Welch is 24 and turning 25 in the summertime, but we’re happy we’re in the position to make a move like this and it’s a credit to our hockey club. We identified what I thought our need was and we think it’s a good move for us.”
Roberts was one of Florida’s top forwards. However, his place in Pittsburgh has not been determined yet.
“We’ll sit down with the players and try to find the right combination,” Therrien said. “There are different options and we’ll take our time to make sure we make the right decision with our lines.”