Industry Chatter: Penguins put a feeler out on All-Star Center

1. — Prior to the All-Star break, the Penguins third line center search included a discussion with the M[hide]innesota Wild brass recently about the potential availability of Eric Staal, were the Wild decide to be sellers at the deadline, league sources tell TIOPS.

Staal, 33, has 22 goals and 24 assists on the season and is a on great contract, signed through next season with a $3.5 million cap hit. He has been a rejuvenated player in Minnesota after a 28 goal, 65 point season in Minnesota last year.

And the Penguins haven’t been the only team checking on Staal were the Wild to falter a bit leading into the deadline.

If Minnesota were to put Staal in play, one NHL executive on the topic of Staal this week put Staal’s trade value easily at a first rounder and a top NHL-ready prospect in return.

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher in the last year of his contract is stuck in a situation of trying to win this year to get himself a new contract but also put the team in better position to contend next season, beyond if it becomes clear competing for a Stanley Cup is unlikely this season.

Fletcher been open to a shakeup of his roster, strictly player for player type deals, and has even mulled selling high on a veteran player like Staal who is having an excellent season, but 6-1-1 in their last eight games, Minnesota has moved back into the second wildcard spot.

Matt Cullen is a nice story were he to return but leadership with this group is overrated. They don’t need any.

An actual reunion for Jim Rutherford that would have a significant impact on repeating as Stanley Cup Champions would be acquiring Staal.

He knows it and if Minnesota becomes open to listening on Staal much harder once the deadline approaches, Pittsburgh wants to be in that discussion.


2. — Players can say they don’t pay attention to the media but when the General Manager is making the media rounds as he was this week and constantly saying he’s trying to add a third line center, Riley Sheahan who was brought in earlier this season to be the third line center, has to be aware of the talk.

Sheahan turned in a nice performance vs the Capitals with 2 assists, including a primary helper on Phil Kessel’s first period goal. For a couple Penguins, including Sheahan, poor possession stats vs the Capitals didn’t tell the actual story of how they played.

Sometimes it does, last night it didn’t.

Sheahan was at 38% in possession but was 50% in Scoring Chances For (8/8) and was on the ice for 5 High Danger Chances to 3 Against. There’s a lot more weight in those two categories and those numbers backed up the eye test where Sheahan was active in creating individual offense, something that is often lacking with him.

Defenseman Jamie Oleksiak also falls into this category from last night. He was at 39% in possession, but was +3 in being on the ice for Scoring Chances (10/7) and was also on the ice for 2 Goals For and 1 Against. He had the blunder defensively in not picking up Ovechkin on Ovie’s one-timer goal from the left circle in the third period, but Oleksiak had some strong moments in showing poise with the puck that created zone entries and zone time for the Penguins offensively. He’s a really smart player in how he picks his spots well.

3. — Matt Murray allowed 4 goals on 33 shots, not a great game from a save percentage standpoint, but he looked the part again as he did Tuesday night. He was sound positionally with his angles and such. Thought it was another step in the right direction as he’s playing with confidence again.

Hard to fault him on many of the goals against. The first goal against was bad a bounce, the second goal against Ian Cole screened him for no reason and the Ovechkin game-tying goal in the third was a defensive breakdown from Oleksiak not sliding over and Murray almost got over for the save as the puck off his right foot and in.

For Cole, the second period was a period he’d probably like to forget.

He was on the ice for 2 goals against, including the Orlov goal where he got right into Murray’s sightlines with no Capitals in front, and then took a head shot from Tom Wilson late in the period that sent him to the room to be evaluated. He would return in the third.

4. — Ryan Reaves returned to the lineup and he actually didn’t play that bad of a game. The coaches did a good job of getting him a couple shifts with Malkin and Crosby as the Penguins have been effective in double shifting Crosby in particular a few times a period.

That saw Reaves play 1:43 with Malkin and was on the ice for 4 shot attempts and 1 against. He had over 2 minutes of ice time with Crosby. Overall Reaves was on the ice for 8 Scoring Chances.

Reaves, though, was also on the ice when Kris Letang got his neck tomahawked by T.J. Oshie. Oshie was fined $5,000 today.

The Penguins can’t sit here and say Reaves deters anything, because as I’ve said a number of times, tough-guys like Reaves don’t deter anything. They’ll go after the other teams tough guy or stare down a Tom Wilson but that is it.

Opposing teams have no fear of retribution. Just look at Oshie from last night. He could care less Reaves was on the ice.

5. — Jim Rutherford has been receiving very favorable reports on Zach Aston-Reese in recent weeks and it’s not a surprise that Aston-Reese was recommended to be called up by Bill Guerin & Co. This is a player the Penguins were talking in late December of wanting to get some NHL action and the opportunity now presents itself with Hornqvist injured.

Aston-Reese brings a little Hornqvist game to the table as he’s a hard nosed player below the dots and is really effective in the net-front area.

Area to watch tonight will be his skating. To read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!