Pittsburgh Penguins winger Chris Kunitz (abdominal) has been cleared to return to the lineup Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens and the return of Kunitz gives the Penguins a number of options internally and trade options leading up to the March 3rd trade deadline.
Kunitz who has been somewhat of a disappointment during his short Penguins career, 14 goals in 74 games, (including playoffs) adds a physical presence and a playmaking ability to the Penguins top two lines.
Kunitz is expected to re-gain his spot alongside Sidney Crosby, Bill Guerin and if head coach Dan Bylsma opts to keep Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal together, it gives GM Ray Shero plenty of versatility at the trade deadline.
A managerial decision to use Staal and Malkin together in more of a prominent role, could enhance the opportunity for Pittsburgh to be aggressive at the trade deadline for the present and the future.
Of course, this only happens as long as Pittsburgh has enough confidence in Mark Letestu (re-assigned, cap reasons) or Max Talbot (unlikely), who in the past was regarded as the teams future third line center.
As I mentioned in a earlier post, some in the organization see a risk in moving Ruslan Fedotenko as part of a potential deal for Coyotes forward Peter Mueller and that is warranted
However, if Staal fills a top-6 forward position, Pittsburgh can be more aggressive in trying to get something for Fedotenko, who many believe won’t be back next season.
Let’s play the scenario game for a moment
****Letestu as 3rd line center, Staal with Malkin****
Kunitz – Crosby – Guerin
Dupuis (spot open for trade deadline winger) – Staal – Malkin
Cooke – Letestu – Kennedy
Rupp – Adams – Talbot
Odd-man out: Fedotenko?
*In this scenario, five top-six forward positions would be filled (Kunitz, Crosby, Guerin, Malkin, Staal) and a best case scenario would be acquiring a top-6 winger at the deadline and having Dupuis in a versatile role on the 4th line, with Talbot/Adams/and Rupp battling for a spot in the top 12.
Right now I hear it’s about 40/60 that Fedotenko will be moved, because I’m not sold that the organization is ready to break up the three center model but Fedotenko’s trade deadline fate will be tied to the Penguins willingness to use Staal as a top-6 forward.