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Three New Penguins to Watch in 2023

by J.T. Toth

Photo courtesy of Weirton Daily Times.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and new GM Kyle Dubas were very active in the off-season, giving their roster a major and much needed facelift. The team added 12 new players via trade or free agency and lost 7, covering all areas of the rink.

Draft 412 takes a closer look at the three most important additions as the season nears:

1) Defenseman - Erik Karlsson

Rumors of the Pens’ interest in acquiring Erik Karlsson started on the first day of free agency and stretched through the summer until August 6th when Pittsburgh, San Jose and Montreal agreed on a 9 player, 3 draft pick trade. And the Penguins obtained Karlsson without needing to sacrifice another first round draft pick or a top prospect, a coup for Dubas.

Karlsson adds scoring from the back end, coming off a record setting 101 point season and his third Norris Trophy award as the NHL’s best defenseman. He’s expected to quarterback the Pens’ stale powerplay and provide some measure of relief to an aging Kris Letang. The organization hopes that with the pair complimenting each other, Head Coach Mike Sullivan can decrease the ice time for each, making both more effective and limiting injuries from spending too much time on the ice.

Karlsson struggles at times in the defensive end but adds another dynamic playmaker to the Pens’ top-heavy roster. If he stays healthy, Karlsson will help the Pens’ ailing powerplay and will become a regular fixture on the nightly score sheet.

2) Defenseman - Ryan Graves

Perhaps the most unheralded signing of the offseason could be the Pens’ most important one. The team signed 28-year-old defenseman Ryan Graves to an affordable, six-year contract worth 4.5 million dollars a year, waving goodbye to two-time Stanley Cup champion (but aging veteran) Brian Dumoulin in free agency.

Graves projects as an upgrade over Dumoulin’s play, who in recent years regressed, struggling to keep up with his blueline mate, Kris Letang. A younger player, Graves pairs up well and provides a defensive-minded presence in the backend for more offensively oriented defensemen like Karlsson or Letang.

Graves is a puck moving defenseman and uses his 6’5” frame to engage in a physical game, something desperately needed by the team. Fans will be reminded of a slightly bigger Brooks Orpik when Graves takes to the ice in October.

3) Left Wing - Reilly Smith

The first off-season acquisition began with the Penguins obtaining one of the “original” Vegas Golden Knights, winger Reilly Smith, for a 3rd round pick in 2024.

With the departure of winger Jason Zucker in free agency, the Pens needed to replace the top 6 winger. Enter Reilly Smith, a Zucker clone in many respects. With similar stats in 2022-23, the Pens replaced Zucker’s 48 points and 27 goals with Smith’s 56 points and 26 goals this past season. And with star winger Jake Guentzel slated to miss the beginning of the season due to offseason surgery, Smith will be looked to for a greater level of production in the early months of the 2023-24 campaign.

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