The Pittsburgh Penguins could be interested in acquiring J.T. Miller from the Vancouver Canucks. The Penguins may need a centre as The Athletic’s Josh Yohe reports unrestricted free agent (UFA) Evgeni Malkin’s future with the club is uncertain (from ‘What I’m hearing about the Penguins: Malkin, Letang, Hextall, Trocheck and J.T. Miller,’ The Athletic, June 28, 2022).
“Numerous agents have told me that, after conversations they’ve had with Penguins general manager Ron Hextall, they believe it’s unlikely that Evgeni Malkin is returning to Pittsburgh,” Yohe said. “Some people I’ve spoken with in the Penguins organization feel the same way.”
Penguins’ president of hockey operations Brian Burke noted the organization should know soon whether Malkin will return to the club next season. If he chooses to move on from his career, Miller would be an ideal replacement for him. Miller is coming off a career year where he scored 32 goals and posted 99 points in 80 games. He is a UFA after the 2022-23 season. TSN’s Darren Dreger noted the Canucks want good young players along with draft picks in a trade for Miller. Dreger also believes the Canucks will get an offer they can’t refuse. The Penguins’ opportunity to win a fourth Stanley Cup with Sidney Crosby is starting to close, so they should be one of the teams willing to offer up a lot in a trade for Miller.
Along with Malkin, right-shot defenceman Kris Letang is also a UFA this offseason. Yohe notes general manager Ron Hextall is aware that no one on the team’s current roster can replace Letang as the team’s number one defenceman. Therefore, in order to keep Letang, one of the team’s NHL defencemen needs to be traded, which includes Brain Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson and Jon Marino. The Canucks need a right-handed defenceman, and Marino is a player they are likely interested in.
Canucks president of hockey operations, Jim Rutherford, is a big fan of Marino, even attempting to trade for the defenceman at the trade deadline in March. Last offseason, Yohe and Rob Rossi noted Marino’s standing appeared to be less firm with the Penguins’ current regime than it was with Rutherford (from ‘What we’re hearing about the Penguins heading into NHL free agency: goalie situation, trade talks and John Marino’s availability,’ The Athletic, July 27, 2021).
Marino would become the best right-handed defenceman on the Canucks if the organization acquires him. He is in the second year of his six-year contract with an average annual value of $4.4 million. In his third NHL season, he scored a goal and posted 25 points in 81 games. Marino is a good start for talks in trade talks for Miller, but the Penguins would need to offer more than a top-4 defenceman.
Samuel Poulin is the Penguins’ only first-round pick over the past seven years. The club selected their top prospect with the 21st overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Poulin stands at 6-foot-1, 208 pounds and is 21 years old. He struggled to start the season while playing at the wing with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the American Hockey League (AHL) but switched to his natural position at centre and finished the season with 16 goals and 37 points in 72 games. He added three goals and four points in six AHL playoff games.
A majority of the Canucks top prospects have graduated to the NHL, so adding top prospects is necessary for the club. Poulin is the Penguins’ top prospect and will be needed in a deal for Miller.
First Round Pick
The Penguins hold the 21st overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. With the 15th overall pick and the 21st overall pick, the Canucks can add two quality players to their prospect pool. THW’s Peter Baracchini has left winger Isaac Howard ranked 21 in his top 160 final rankings for the 2022 Draft.
However, the Canucks have an option to take the best player available at 15th overall and then fill in one of their needs with the 21st overall pick. The club needs a right-shot defenceman and a right-shot centre. Forward Brad Lambert, ranked 20th by Baracchini, is right-handed and can play wing and centre, or Frank Nazar, ranked 15th by TSN insider Bob McKenzie, is a right-shot centre and could potentially be taken at either 15 or 21. On defence, Ryan Chesley is ranked 29 by Baracchini and 25 by McKenzie. He is a 6-foot, 201-pound right-shot defenceman and could fill in a major need for the Canucks. The organization could also trade both picks to move up in the draft if teams are willing to move down.
Penguins Need to Add Miller if Malkin Leaves
Crosby will be 35 to start next season, and without Malkin, the club is taking a major hit up the middle. Replacing the future Hall of Famer with Miller will help keep the Penguins’ window open for a little longer. In return, the Canucks could add a much-needed top-4 defenceman in Marino and a top prospect in Poulin. Additionally, the club acquires another first-round pick which they could help fill a need or trade away with their own first-round pick to move up in the draft.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.