Three Free Agents The Pittsburgh Penguins Could Target This Offseason

NHL Free Agency
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As the Pittsburgh Penguins continue pushing for a playoff spot just over the halfway mark of the season, most fans are aware they may lose some key players to the NHL free agency this offseason. The Penguins have 15 of their current roster players who become free agents. They also only have close to 30 million in cap space. It will definitely be a crunch. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ free agency window will be key if it just so happens the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Bryan Rust choose to chase a championship elsewhere.

However, it is unlikely for all three to leave, which should put some hope into Penguins fans. According to Penguins writer Josh Yohe, Letang wants a raise, Malkin is fine with a pay cut, and 30-year-old Rust wants a six-year six million dollar contract. It will be hard for the Penguins to make hefty offers due to their tight cap. Although Pittsburgh’s free agency plans may not include these guys, they are possible fits. With that, let’s check out some viable options for them to pursue in free agency this summer.

NHL Free Agency Could Help Pittsburgh PenguinsĀ Despite Tight Cap

Andrew Copp – LW/C

Since being drafted by the Jets in 2013, the Michigan standout Andrew Copp has had a consistent career despite being in a smaller shutdown role. He had one of his best seasons in the covid impacted 2020-21 season collecting 39 points in 55 games. Copp is a very versatile player hence his ability to play both the wing and center. He has the ability to create offence both off the rush and off the forecheck which is a key display of his versatility.

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Valeri Nichuskin – LW/RW

After a great season with the Colorado Avalanche, 26-year-old Valeri Nichuskin could very much fit on the Penguin’s third line with veteran Jeff Carter. Nichuskin has very well been one of the least talked about two-way forwards this year. He’s having a fantastic year with Colorado being one of the most solid two-way players in the NHL. A player like Nichuskin is really what the Penguins need. Oftentimes they’ve had issues with depth scoring and the addition of this young Russian would really make them dangerous. Not only does he bring a skilled two-way game but he brings size that the Penguins could desperately use. Those who know Ron Hextall and Brian Burke know that that’s something they believe in so it would not be crazy for them to go after this guy.

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Nichuskin is a very deceptive player who unlike some, uses his height to his advantage to shift around opposing players. For someone that big his skating stride and mechanics also stick out. He’s really the swiss army knife player. He’s consistently at the net for rebounds, always in the right place at the right time, and shooting for quality over quantity. Nichuskins comparables are Patric Hornqvist, Adam Lowry, and surprise surprise, Andrew Copp. An ideal linemate for Nichuskin would be fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin.

Ian Cole – LD/RD

Ian Cole has been a great all-around defenceman for Carolina this season playing on their bottom pairing with Ethan Bear. The best thing about Cole is he’s a left-handed defenceman that can play both spots on the blueline. Adaptability is what the Penguins could use and it’s exactly what he brings. In addition to his two-way game, he brings the grit that we saw in his former tenure with this team. He’s not a guy who is going to provide offence like Mike Matheson but he’ll be a solid shutdown guy who will put his body on the line consistently while excelling on special teams. Will he replace Letang if the veteran leaves in free agency? Definitely not. However, he will be a cheaper depth defenceman, that’s for sure. He can play a large number of minutes.

Now that his strengths have been presented, what are his weaknesses? Well, he has a hard time getting the puck out of his own end with possession. This is for sure fixable, though. Another flaw is his ability to turn defensive zone retrievals into exits. He’s excellent at retrieving the puck but maybe not as good at creating successful exits. Although there are flaws in his game the Penguins are known to turn flawed players into solid options.

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Analytics credits to Evolving Hockey & Corey Sznajder: All Three Zones Project

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