The Pittsburgh Penguins just went all in on their quest to win the Stanley Cup for the third straight season. Doing so, and they would become the first franchise to do that since the New York Islanders actually achieved a four-peat to start off the 1980’s.
Whether they do or not has yet to be seen, but what is known is the fact that the Penguins gave up their top goaltending prospects - one of the best in the entire game - in order to solidify their lineup right now.
Pittsburgh made waves by acquiring the top center available this trade season, acquiring Derick Brassard from the Ottawa Senators, in what turned out to be a three-team trade. The Vegas Golden Knights were involved for salary retention reasons.
The Penguins will give up a first-round pick this year, a third-round pick next season, pending free agent Ian Cole, and goaltending prospect Filip Gustavsson, along with Ryan Reaves and a draft pick to Vegas.
Given the fact that the Penguins will likely be selecting late in the first, again, it makes whoever is taken there more of a long-hot to match what Brassard is, and since Cole isn’t going to be back next season, moving those pieces were no-brainers.
Letting go of a player of Gustavsson’s potential, however, would usually be a big blow to an organization.
The Penguins, however, have prepared for such an occurrence to the point that they were able to make the trade now to make them a better team, and it not hurt them going forward.
Penguins’ top prospect
There is a debate to be had, whether Gustavsson or Daniel Sprong would rank as the team’s top prospect. Both have considerable upside, that comes with some caution to be had.
Sprong has shown he has the offensive ability to play in the NHL, but concerns about his defensive play have him working it out in the American Hockey League (AHL).
For Gustavsson, he was one of the most highly regarded goaltending prospects to come out of the 2016 draft and has done nothing so far to change that thought. He is, however, and goaltender and even the highest of regarded ones can be a coin-flip sometimes when it comes to panning out.
Gustavsson has the looks of the real deal, though. After being named the best goaltender at the World Juniors, Gustavsson has emerged as one of the best goalies in the Swedish Elite League, regardless of age. His goals-against-average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%) rank sixth and fifth, respectively, in the SEL.
Selected 55th overall by the Penguins in the 2016 draft, Gustavsson was the third goalie taken that year, behind Connor Hart and Tyler Parsons. He was the consensus top-ranked non-North American goaltender in the draft and one that few believe will at the very least compete for playing time at the NHL level at some point during his career.
Penguins drafting emphasis
There was a time, under Ray Shero, they put a high emphasis on drafting high-end defensemen, with the thought being if they don’t help the organization in a Penguins' uniform, they could do so by being used as a trade piece.
That didn’t really work out, as few actually worked out that way (Joe Morrow was traded for Brenden Morrow, and Scott Harrington was an add-on in the Phil Kessel deal, so there’s that).
In more recent years, the Penguins turned their attention to drafting goaltenders. The Penguins drafted Matt Murray, and Sean Maguire during the 2012 NHL draft, and then traded up to take Tristan Jarry in 2013.
While it seemed the organization was quite set on top-end young goalies, the Penguins pulled the trigger on selecting Gustavsson, when prospects like Dillon Dube and Taylor Raddysh were still available, and taken with two of the next three picks.
The plan to that finally came to fruition Friday night with Gustavsson being used to bring in the most coveted center on the trade block. The one who gives them the best 1-2-3 punch down the middle since the Jordan Staal days. Brassard makes the Penguins’ third line more dangerous than most team’s top line in the East.
That was made possible by taking the best player available when it was their turn to pick, and it hasn’t hurt their long-term plan at the game’s most critical position.
Unfazed depth at goalie
Losing your franchise goaltender in an expansion draft during the offseason, and then trading away your top prospect at the position, you’d expect there to be problems at some point... whether now or in the future.
The fact remains, even losing Marc-Andre Fleury, and Gustavsson, few teams are set up at the goaltending position, both for the present and future, like the Penguins, are.
Jarry was one of the best goalies in the AHL last season and has been stellar in his first bit of real action in the NHL. Matt Murray was the starting goaltender for two Stanley Cup winning teams - both while being considered a rookie.
He just reached 100 games played in the NHL recently and has won 64 of his 102 career regular season contests.
Whoever ends being the team’s long-term goalie, they seem like they could be set for the next ten years with either.
Factor in Casey DeSmith, who isn’t going to be a starter, but has been one of the best goalies in the AHL this year, who looked good in the NHL, he could very well be either Murray or Jarry’s backup in the years to come.
Rutherford’s grand scheme
He will probably never admit it, but this could have been Jim Rutherford’s plan all along when selecting Gustavsson.
The Penguins are on the verge of doing something special, and whatever it is that the team needs to get them there, Rutherford has been more than willing to get for them.
While trading a top-end prospect usually hurts an organization, the job the front office did for the Penguins has them in a great position to where the impact is going to be minimal.
What do you think about the Penguins trade? Did they come out ahead in the deal? Do you think they will regret trading Gustavsson? Let us know in the comment section below.