American Hockey League (AHL)

Evaluating Prospects The Pittsburgh Penguins Got In Jake Guentzel Trade

Evaluating Prospects The Pittsburgh Penguins Got In Jake Guentzel Trade

The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired a package including prospects Ville Koivunen, Vasily Ponmarev and Cruz Lucius in one of the trade deadline's biggest deals.

Mar 8, 2024 by Chris Peters
Evaluating Prospects The Pittsburgh Penguins Got In Jake Guentzel Trade

One of the top prizes of the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline is on the move the night before deadline day. The Pittsburgh Penguins moved pending unrestricted free agent Jake Guentzel to the Carolina Hurricanes for a package that includes prospects and draft picks.

Heading to Pittsburgh for the package that includes Guentzel with 25% of his salary retained and defenseman Ty Smith, will be a conditional first-round pick in 2024 that becomes a second-rounder if Carolina doesn’t win the Stanley Cup, a conditional 2024 fifth-round pick, Michael Bunting and three prospects.

What Prospects Did The Penguins Get In The Jake Guentzel Trade?

The prospects being moved are Ville Koivunen, a 2021 second-round draft pick; Vasily Ponomaryov, who was picked in the second round in 2020; and Cruz Lucius, a 2022 fourth-round pick.

Prospect Scouting Reports

Ville Koivunen, C/W, Kärpät

Age: 20

Koivunen is in the midst of a breakout season in Finland after a so-so 2022-23 campaign that saw him spend time in both the AHL and Finland’s top pro league.

Back in his native country with the club he grew up in this season, Koivunen has taken a gigantic step in his offensive game. The 6-foot forward has 55 points in 57 games while playing a top-of-the-lineup role. He is currently sixth in league scoring at just 20 years old.

Koivunen’s 55 points currently rank 12th all-time for a U21 player in Liiga and is the highest point total for a U21 player since Sami Kapanen had 55 points 30 years ago. It should be noted, however, that Koivunen hit 55 points in 57 games, while most other of his historical age peers played far fewer games.

While Koivunen’s offensive uptick is impressive and important for his confidence and overall development, he’s long been lauded for his on-ice work ethic and ability to be around the puck a lot. He has a good motor, plays aggressively and plays a very complete game.

I don’t think he’s going to be a major producer at the NHL level, but should give the Penguins a middle-six forward option in the nearer future. We’ll have to see how he adjusts to the North American game, likely with time in the AHL at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Of the prospects acquired, I think he has the best chance to make an NHL impact.

Vasily Ponomarev, C/W, Chicago Wolves

Age: 21

I’ve quite liked Ponomarev going back to his draft year when I ranked him as a first-round talent. He went 53rd overall that year and in subsequent years has been a little up and down.

Ponomarev had an impressive rookie season with the Chicago Wolves in 2022-23, posting 46 points in 64 games and has continued his progression with 29 points in 39 games. 

Ponomarev also has played in NHL games with Carolina this season, posting a goal and an assist over two games.

He has a good motor, higher-end hands and plays with some strength despite not being a particularly big player. 

Like Koivunen, he has some middle-six upside and has shown a bit over the last two seasons that he has NHL capabilities. He’s not going to be a star, but if you can get an everyday NHLer out of him in the next two years, you can be happy.

Cruz Lucius, RW, Wisconsin

Age: 19

Over two collegiate seasons, Lucius has been essentially a point-per-game player. He has 31 points in 32 games this season for a Wisconsin squad that has legit national title hopes. He is the team’s leading scorer currently.

Lucius, who is the younger brother of Winnipeg Jets first-round prospect Chaz Lucius, has some scoring pop, good hands and he’s rounding out his game away from the puck.

Playing under Mike Hastings at Wisconsin is allowing Lucius to work harder on the defensive elements of his game. He doesn’t have the top-end abilities to threaten to play up the lineup so if he makes it, it’s going to be as a depth player.

His post-draft development has been encouraging and he could top out as a third-line scoring depth option, but he's a bit of a longer-shot compared to the other two.

Jake Guentzel Trade Analysis

With a focus on the Penguins, the pressure has been on as the team has tailspun its way right out of playoff contention. There's a need to get younger and the Pens get a lot of different options to do that. Koivunen and Ponomarev are players that are getting closer to where they need to be to be full-time NHLers. They're probably B prospects at best at this point, but having multiple B or C prospects gives you time to find out what you really have.

The draft picks will have value, especially if the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup as they get an extra first-rounder. Should they not win the Cup, it's Philadelphia's second-round pick in 2024 for the Penguins, who currently do not have their own first-rounder for 2024, as it was traded away in the Erik Karlsson deal. The Penguins do have top-10 protection on the pick, though. 

With Guentzel being on an expiring contract, the price was probably not going to be super high and Pittsburgh wasn't going to make as big of a splash as fans may have hoped in parting with a guy who was a big part of the repeat Stanley Cup bid in 2018. Either way, Koivunen, Ponomarev and Lucius are prospects with a chance to reach the NHL with some more development and direction.

The Pens also got an NHL roster player in Michael Bunting who hasn't been in the league terribly long, but also isn't all that young at this point at 28 years old.

As for the Hurricanes, they got a high-end rental with a chance to contend for his services in the longer term. They also did it without parting with any of their A prospects. The draft pick conditions also give them a little less pain if they don't go all the way. And if they do? No one misses the first round pick when they've got a Stanely Cup banner hanging.

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