The Pittsburgh Penguins finally acquired Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker late Monday night. After one official attempt, which was nixed when former Penguins winger Phil Kessel nixed a trade to Minnesota, the Penguins reportedly carried a torch for Zucker until things finally came together. The move will immediately bolster the Penguins lines.
It doesn’t take a mentalist or a carnival fortune-teller to predict Zucker will begin his Penguins tenure on Sidney Crosby’s left-wing. The bigger question surrounding head coach Mike Sullivan’s line construction will be if he seeks to spread the talent over four lines or concentrate the talent on three units.
This season, Zucker has 29 points (14g, 15a) in 45 games. He’s bounced around the Minnesota lineup from the top line to the bottom line, where he was in the last couple of Minnesota games. You’d be correct in asserting the Penguins got their man who should fit perfectly into the Penguins system. You’d also be correct to state the Penguins gave up a first-round pick and a top blueline prospect for a player who wasn’t consistently a top-six winger.
The 5-foot-11, 183-pound Zucker can skate well and finish. You can read the full analysis of the trade here.
Eventually, the Penguins will be a deep team, again. Nick Bjugstad and Dominik Kahun are yet to return to the lineup, and they will give the Penguins four solid lines for the first time in weeks.
First, we’ll take a stab at the Penguins lines for Tuesday night against Tampa Bay. Will Sullivan load up the top line with Hornqvist or keep Simon on the top line? We’re going to guess at Simon. Jared McCann also becomes a wild-card. Will he move back to center to give the Penguins a fourth line or will he remain a top-six winger, despite his recent struggles?
Jason Zucker — Sidney Crosby — Dominik Simon
Bryan Rust — Evgeni Malkin — Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese — Teddy Blueger — Brandon Tanev
Andrew Agozzino — Jared McCann — Sam Lafferty
If or when the Pittsburgh Penguins get healthy, the Penguins lines will again have balance and versatility, as the Penguins lines did in the first half of the season.
A healthy Penguins lineup, however, has been as difficult to spot as Bigfoot or aliens. The Penguins had a healthy lineup for approximately 40 minutes this season. So, we tepidly project the Penguins full lineup when Nick Bjugstad returns from core muscle surgery, and Dominik Kahun returns from a concussion.
Zucker — Crosby — Kahun
Rust — Malkin — Hornqvist
McCann – Bjugstad – Simon
Aston-Reese — Blueger — Tanev
The fully healthy lines will juggle and change based on who has “juice.” There is no guarantee that Zucker will mesh with Crosby, but the Penguins will have options if that occurs. A simple swap with Zucker and Rust would work.
Of course, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford may not be done, either. The Penguins also included Alex Galchenyuk in the deal, which made the Zucker trade virtually salary neutral. The Penguins added only $177k to their salary cap and still have the equivalent of more than $4.2 million to spend.
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