The Pittsburgh Penguins drafted a lot of defensemen over the last 15 years and a lot of them were, and are, excellent hockey players. Not only did they have a lot of success drafting and developing defenders, but many of them were used as valuable trading chips. At numerous points throughout the last decade-plus, the Penguins were regarded as having the deepest pool of defensemen in the NHL.
It used to feature names like:
- Kris Letang
- Brooks Orpik
- Matt Niskanen
- Derrick Pouliot
- Olli Maatta
- Brian Dumoulin
- Joe Morrow
- Simon Despres
- Phillip Samuellson
- Alex Goligoski
- Scott Harrington
- Robert Bortuzzo
- Ryan Whitney
- Andrew Ference
- Rob Scuderi.
However, up until a few months ago, the only promising player in the system seemed to be Dumoulin, and he’s set to be an NHL regular next season.
Most of these names have gone the way of trades as part of the “win now” philosophy and some, like Niskanen and Orpik, left via unrestricted free agency in search of more lucrative contracts. The pool had run dry and many experts had the belief that the Penguins might have actually used their top pick in the NHL entry draft to pick a defender, despite their apparent need for forwards. However, the draft came and passed and the Pens did not use a single draft pick on a blueliner.
It seemed like the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were doomed to have a horrible year as almost their entire rearguard was either called up or traded. But Penguins management has done something very clever that few have actually realized: They have added some promising young defenders via trades.
It began with one of the “throw in” players of the blockbuster Phil Kessel trade and Pittsburgh sneakily added Tim Erixon, which will greatly reduce the burden of losing Scott Harrington in that same trade. Then just a few days ago the Pens did it again, welcoming to Pittsburgh Adam Clendening.
And who might Clendening be?
Well if you believe what most media outlets are saying, he’s another “throw in” player inside the trade that sent Brandon Sutter to the Vancouver Canucks. From where we sit, he might be a whole lot more than just a throw in. Sure, he has now been traded twice within a year and has very limited NHL experience, but look at what he has accomplished at the AHL level.
During this past season he appeared in 49 AHL games, in which he netted 18 points. This in itself is nothing to brag about, especially considering it was down in the minors, but just a season before that he was a first team All-Star. In 2013-14, he appeared in 79 games and led all AHL defenders in scoring with 59 points.
Clendening and Erixon are both interesting pieces to add to the Penguins and no one knows where they will play next season, but Rob Scuderi looks to be out of a job. At the very best he’s the No. 8 or No. 9 guy behind both Clendening and Erixon.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has said he wants to go cheap on defense and let the youth play, well it’s really looking like he meant it. But what is more important in that phrase is that now the Pens have options, if Dumoulin starts the season on their bottom pairing and struggles, either Erixon or Clendening could jump in and replace him.
The Penguins certainly aren’t in a good situation regarding their defensive prospects, but stealthy additions like these have definitely softened the blow of losing a lot of talented blueliners.