Is Nugent-Hopkins A Fit As Penguins Third Line Center?

© Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports NCAA Hockey: Frozen Four-Boston University vs North Dakota

By Jacob Messing

With the NHL season a month away, the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins remain without a legitimate third line center.

General manager Jim Rutherford has been active on the trade front since taking over the team in 2014, and if the Penguins are serious about eyeing a three-peat, reinforcements will likely come in that form.

“There’s a couple of guys I could acquire right now,” Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I feel like there’s another group of guys that could possibly be available here soon. Kind of just waiting to see if that happens,” adding that the search could continue into the regular season.

The team has been linked to 26-year-old Matt Duchene and 23-year-old Alex Galchenyuk, among others, as it searches for a replacement for Nick Bonino, who signed with the Nashville Predators on July 1.

The price tags on Duchene and Galchenyuk may be too expensive for Pittsburgh, as the pair of former third-overall picks have shown strong promise and have higher ceilings than their best offensive seasons.

The team will likely need to look elsewhere for a third-line center, and former No. 1 pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may come at a cheaper price.

A Nugent-Hopkins Overview

The 24-year-old Canadian has failed to reach the high expectations set for top draft picks, and has been quickly surpassed on Edmonton’s depth chart by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Although he’s coming off his worst career point total with 18 goals and 43 points in 82 games, his average ice time was also at its lowest since his rookie season in 2011-12.

By accepting his role as a third-line center, Nugent-Hopkins could reverse this statistical trend. The two years in which he averaged more than 20 minutes on the ice, the Canadian posted close to 60 points. There’s no reason he can’t get back to that form.

The Penguins arguably boast the top one-two punch of centers in the NHL and a sturdy two-way center behind them -- see Nick Bonino or Jordan Staal -- makes a big difference to the team. Nugent-Hopkins has four years left on a $6 million AAV contract, which would cement the Penguins third-line for the foreseeable future, but more on that later.

The biggest asterisk to a potential deal -- as to any -- is the price point. Edmonton’s center depth doesn’t exactly outshine Pittsburgh’s, and losing Nugent-Hopkins for a team that labels itself a contender doesn’t make a whole lot of sense -- that is, until you look at the $12.5 million and $8.5 million contracts McDavid and Draisaitl signed this offseason, respectively.

A Potential Trade

Any deal the Oilers make would involve a roster player or players. One name that makes sense is Penguins right wing Patric Hornqvist. The 30-year-old Swede has one year left at $4.25 million and would be able to ride shotgun to McDavid, as he has proved the ability to keep up with Sidney Crosby in the past.

But Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli would need more than just Hornqvist’s expiring contract if he were to relinquish Nugent-Hopkins. He could look to acquire one of Bryan Rust, Scott Wilson, or Tom Kuhnhackl, who are each set to become restricted free agents following the 2017-18 season.

Pittsburgh’s current cap space of $3.2 million, plus Hornqvist’s $4.25 million, would give the Penguins enough room to bring in Nugent-Hopkins straight up, but would cause future cap problems when other contracts expire in 2018. Trading away a restricted free agent would help alleviate that problem.

Chiarelli would also likely need to add more to the deal for Rutherford in case a former first-overall pick wasn’t enough for the Pittsburgh GM, which would likely be a middle-to-high-end prospect, likely from the blue line.

The Result

In the aftermath of this hypothetical trade, Pittsburgh solidifies itself down the middle while being able to replace Hornqvist from within. Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary, and Phil Kessel are wingers locked in the top six.

The last spot could be taken by top prospect Daniel Sprong, KHL free agent Danis Zaripov -- with whom Evgeni Malkin publicly stated he’d like to play -- or Bryan Rust, should Pittsburgh retain him.

Edmonton would receive a two-time Stanley Cup champion to flank McDavid with while bringing in another Stanley Cup winner in whichever pending restricted free agent they were able to land to add depth to its forward group.

The addition of two Penguins would shift budding players like Ryan Strome and Jesse Puljujarvi into smaller roles while they continue to develop at the NHL level.

Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @JMessing23.

FloHockey’s Western Conference All-Star Rosters

© James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports NHL: St. Louis Blues at Carolina Hurricanes

Welcome back for the Western Conference installment of FloHockey’s NHL All-Star lineup predictions.

Catch up on the Eastern Conference selections right here.The NHL is opting for a third year of the three-on-three format. Each division has a team of 11 players — six forwards, three defensemen, and two goalies — with at least one representative from each team.

FloHockey’s Eastern Conference All-Star Rosters

© Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports NHL: San Jose Sharks at Florida Panthers

By Jacob Messing

While there may be not NHL players participating in Pyeongchang for the Winter Olympics this February, fans at least get the fun-filled All-Star weekend.

Detroit's Darren Helm On Both Sides Of A Big Hit

© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Tampa Bay Lightning

By Jacob Messing

With another week of hockey in the books, FloHockey has compiled some of the biggest body checks from the past seven days.

High And Wide: Barbashev, Blues, And A Bounce-Back In L.A.

© Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports NHL: Calgary Flames at Montreal Canadiens

By Jacob Messing

St. Louis Blues forward Jaden Schwartz is out for six weeks, Auston Matthews is hurt again, and the Ottawa Senators have just one win in their past seven games.

No. 6 Minnesota, Grace Zumwinkle Still Searching For Home Formula

Minnesota Athletics DQBFf62UMAA0JgN.jpg

By Jacob Messing

The No. 6 Minnesota Golden Gophers are perfect on the road this season, but have lacked the “advantage” part of home-ice advantage.

No. 18 Penn State Seeks Keystone State Dominance vs Robert Morris

Penn State Athletics DPLq36wX0AUBpyB.jpg

By Jacob Messing

Home-State Battle: Rivals Michigan, Michigan State Set To Clash

Michigan State Athletics DPhSfpgW4AAmcbs.jpg

By Jacob Messing

No matter what the sport, the state of Michigan enjoys watching the Wolverines and Spartans go head-to-head.

Top 5 Minnesota Golden Gophers In The NHL

© Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Minnesota Wild

By Jacob Messing

Last week, FloHockey took a look at the top five Big Ten alumni in the NHL, but given the Minnesota’s plethora of professional talent we decided to follow up with the best Golden Gophers in hockey today.

Strength And Pain: The Hardest Hits Of The Week

© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Nashville Predators

By Jacob Messing

Another weekly dose of strength and pain coming together as FloHockey compiles the best hits from around the world right here.

High And Wide: Wheeler, Winnipeg, And We’ll Call It Upper-Body

© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports NHL: Preseason-San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights

By Jacob Messing

The Philadelphia Flyers have lost 10 straight games, the Metropolitan is demolishing the Eastern Conference, and the two types of injuries are flaring up.