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Meet the Defensemen

By Ryan Lang

Photo Credit- Pensburgh

Training camp is a month away for the Pittsburgh Penguins and GM Kyle Dubas has given the team a much needed facelift. Many of the new players will be foreign to fans in early October, but many mainstays return for a run at the Cup in 2024. Draft 412 will take a deeper look at each position, its depth and potential.

Today, the Penguins Defensemen go on the clock:


Kris Letang - 6’0” 201 LBS

Letang was drafted in the 3rd round by the Penguins in the 2005 NHL draft. Letang has been the third head to the three-headed monster with Malkin and Crosby for the past 17 seasons. The signing of Erik Karlsson will take some pressure and minutes off of his plate and should help with his overall health. He is still a quality defensemen—a future Hall of Famer—who will reconfigure his game nicely into that #2 spot.

Erik Karlsson - 6’0” 190 LBS

Karlsson was drafted in 2008 in the 1st round by the Senators. After 9 seasons with Ottawa he played 5 seasons with San Jose. Last season he put up a career high with 101 points and won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best Defenseman.

The Penguins obtained him in a three-team trade that involved 9 players and 3 draft picks. He will add another dimension to the Penguins offense that they have not seen in some time. He will be the quarterback of a power play that has a chance to be one of the best in the league. A one-two punch of Karlsson and Letang will be deadly.

Chad Ruhwedel - 5’11” 191 LBS

Ruhwedel started his career with the Sabres and played there for 4 seasons. He joined the Penguins ahead of the 2016 season and has been there ever since. He has only played over 50 games one time in his long career but played well recently and will likely be the third line right defenseman behind Karlsson and Letang.

Ruhwedel is a career bottom pair blueliner with a defense-first mentality. He may not be a season long solution to the Pens needs on the 5-6 pairing, but he will start the season in this position.

Ryan Graves - 6’5” 220 LBS

Graves was drafted in 2013 in the 4th round by the New York Rangers. However he did not play until 2018 with the Colorado Avalanche and then in 2021 he joined the Devils where he played 75 games. He put up nearly 30 points in each of his two seasons with the Devils before signing with the Penguins this offseason.

Graves' size and defensive game will help the Pens top two pairing, being counted on to replace Brian Dumoulin’s role on the team as defensive protection for either Kris Letang or Erik Karlsson.

Marcus Pettersson - 6’3 177 LBS

Pettersson was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 NHL draft by the Anaheim Ducks. He has been with the Penguins since 2018 and has become a solid member of the Penguins defensive core. His current contract will run through the 2024-2025 season, and he will slide in nicely in the 2nd line of defensive pairings.

Pettersson played well last year, and should continue to be dependable in the back end and will chip in on scoring from time to time. He will be a nice complimentary piece to either Letang or Karlsson.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph - 6’2” 185 LBS

Joseph was drafted in the 1st round of the 2017 NHL draft by the Arizona Coyotes. He was traded to the Penguins back in 2019 as a part of the Phil Kessell deal. He played his first full season in the NHL last year and he showed some potential but needs to become more consistent in his overall play to make the squad out of training camp.

Ty Smith - 5’11” 180 LBS

Smith was drafted in the 1st round of the 2017 NHL draft by the New Jersey Devils. He played 2 seasons in their organization before being moved to Pittsburgh. Pens new GM Kyle Dubas re-signed Smith to a one-year deal this offseason and he could be given a bigger role if his play continues to improve. His pedigree showed in limited time last season and he has a chance to beat Pierre-Olivier Joseph for the 3rd line pairing.

Mark Freidman- 5’11” 185 LBS

Freidman was drafted in the 3rd round by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2014 Draft. He played sparingly in 3 seasons with the Flyers and has played 54 games in the past 3 seasons with the Penguins. He is a high energy defenseman that has shown some offensive qualities. He has been a +6 in his three seasons in Pittsburgh and has a chance to be the 7th defenseman on the roster.

Will Butcher- 5’10” 195 LBS

Butcher was drafted in the 5th round by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2013 Draft, but was never signed and after spending 4 seasons at the University of Denver he was signed by the New Jersey Devils before the 2017 season. He played 4 years in New Jersey and then bounced around with Buffalo and Dallas before signing with Pittsburgh this off-season. He has a lot of offensive skill and could be a callup if Karlsson or Letang goes down with injury. He has defensive liabilities but can contribute to the Pens offense and on power plays in the absence of either of the team’s superstars.

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