With the NHL’s trade deadline just one week away, the Penguins pulled the trigger on a move Monday afternoon that helped bolster the team’s depth at winger and added a skilled defenseman in a deal that strengthens the team today and in the long term.
The Penguins acquired two young studs in power forward James Neal
and offensively-gifted blueliner Matt Niskanen
from the Dallas Stars for Alex Goligoski. Both players are expected to arrive in Pittsburgh late Monday and be at practice on Tuesday.
“For both sides, for them getting a puck-moving guy and us getting a power forward and defenseman, it made sense for both teams,” general manager Ray Shero said.
“If I was ever going to (make this deal) it had to be for the right forward. I think we’ve found that in (Neal), a young, up-and-coming winger. His best days are ahead of him.
“Getting Matt Niskanen
in the deal was important to us. … It’s hard to get defensemen at this time of year. We’re looking forward to having Matt join us. He’s a young guy, only 24 years old. He’s had some pretty good years so far in the NHL.”
Neal, 23, has scored 20-plus goals in all three of his NHL seasons. The 6-foot-2, 208-pound winger is a rare blend of skill and power. Acquiring a player like Neal was too hard for Shero to pass on.
“There aren’t many of these young, power guys in the game,” he said. “Neal on our list is one of the better ones in the game. He’s got some room to grow.
“This is really the first young winger that we’ve gone out and gotten. Chris Kunitz
was 27 or 28 when we got him. Neal, being just 23, this is the hockey trade that we’ve been looking for. I think this will be a good fit for him in the long run. … We have a pretty good forward group now.”
Niskanen, 24, is in his fourth NHL season. The former first-round pick (28th overall by Dallas in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft) has played 277 career games. His best season was his rookie campaign in 2007-08 when he posted 26 points (7G-19A) and a plus-22 rating. He followed that up with six goals and 35 points in his second year.
“He started off at 20, 21 years old in the league,” Shero said. “He had good years offensively and was a plus player. … He’s a right-hand shot that can play the left side, which he may have to do here. He’s a guy that can play second unit on the power play, or first if he has to. He can shoot the puck. He can kill penalties.”
Niskanen’s numbers have fallen in the past two seasons, however, he still possesses great talent and skill. The Penguins believe they can hone his skills and help him improve his game.
“The thing with Matt, a change might be good for him," Shero said. "That’s what I’m hoping. We have a good coaching staff here and pretty positive people We’re all U.S. guys so good for Matt. Hopefully, he can get back to where he was earlier in his career and help us out.”
Despite the speculation regarding the impact of Sidney Crosby
’s health influencing the Penguins’ deals, Shero stated that this trade was made regardless of Crosby’s situation.
“This was a deal I would have done in the summer time and I’d do now to get Neal and Niskanen,” Shero said.
“The Crosby question, it’s the unknown. I’m looking to add different different pieces to this hockey team, short term and long term - Niskanen and Neal in this case being long term. … Based upon Sid, it’s hard to make that determination because I really don’t know. A lot of this depends on what we’re looking to give up.”
With the deadline still seven days away, the Penguins might not be done dealing yet. If Shero can find another trade to make his team better, there’s no doubt he’ll make it happen.
“Cap-wise we are still in decent shape. We have some room to continue looking at pieces that will help us,” Shero said. “We’ll see what happens between now and 3 o’clock on Monday. There’s a ways to go. We’ll let the dust settle a little bit and get together with our coaches and scouts over the next couple days, work on it and see if we can get better.”
In the meantime, the Penguins know that they’ve acquired two young, quality players that will help now and in the future.
“I believe this is a good hockey deal for us,” Shero said. “This is not just for this year, but moving forward the next few years adding these players. I read a couple times that we’re looking for a wing. This is a step in the right direction. This is a deal that makes sense for us in the short term and the long term.”