The Pittsburgh Penguins have been impressive over the past few weeks with a record of 12-2 and the team may get even better as The Athletic’s Josh Yohe (subscription required) writes that defenseman Justin Schultz, who has missed all but four games this season with a broken leg, has been skating regularly with the team. While it’s too early for a specific timetable, the defenseman could conceivably be back in early to mid-February. However, Schultz’s return will only create more of a defensive logjam for Pittsburgh, which may be forced to make a move soon.
Yohe writes that once Schultz returns to the lineup, the team is likely to match Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang together, Schultz with Olli Maatta and Jack Johnson with Marcus Pettersson, leaving several players out of the lineup, including 6-foot-6, 256-pound Jamie Oleksiak, promising Juuso Riikola and depth defenseman Chad Ruhwedel — far too may players to keep on their roster which, barring injury, will likely prompt a trade.
Surprisingly, the team is solid in that top six as the scribe adds that the team is devoted to playing Pettersson, who has been incredibly reliable since they acquired the blueliner from Anaheim back on Dec. 3 for Daniel Sprong. In fact, the team has been 14-3-1 when he’s playing, and while Pettersson can’t take all the credit for that, he is a significant defensive presence for the team with many believing that he will make up the left side of the defense with Dumoulin and Maatta for the next few years. Pettersson is only averaging 14:54 of ATOI this season, yet he’s seen a recent spike since arriving in Pittsburgh, averaging 16:09 and continuing to increase. He played 18:05 on Friday against his old team, the Ducks. His offense is also starting to come around as he has a five-game point streak going as he has six assists in the last five games.
That might suggest the team’s best trade asset would likely be the 26-year-old Oleksiak, despite being the second biggest player in the league, next to Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien. Oleksiak has developed into a solid player in Pittsburgh after several years of struggling to break into the Dallas Stars’ lineup. He just recently returned from injury after suffering a concussion in a fight with Washington’s Tom Wilson and may be best known for a collision with Byfuglien earlier this season. Byfuglien came away with the worst of the collision as he suffered a concussion himself. Regardless, a player with Oleksiak’s size could stir quite a bit of interest if Pittsburgh is ready to move on from him. Although he is returning from injury, he has seen a decrease in playing time since his return.
If the team does opt to move Oleksiak, that could leave Riikola as the team’s seventh defenseman and Ruhwedel as the team’s eighth defenseman if the team chooses to hold onto eight defensemen, although that could be at the cost of another forward.