The Pittsburgh Penguins’ bottom two lines will have a very different look tonight when they take on the Florida Panthers. The Penguins are desperate to turn things around after a very poor showing against the Tampa Bay Lightning two nights ago and are hoping a shakeup in their bottom six can fix some of their issues. Today the Penguins announced that they’ve recalled forwards Marc Johnstone, Jonathan Gruden, and Valtteri Puustinen from their AHL affiliate.
Johnstone is in his first year with the Penguins organization after signing a two-year, two-way contract on July 2nd. At 27 years old he has never dressed in an NHL game before, meaning he could see his first NHL action in a Penguins jersey. Thus far this season the native of Cranford, New Jersey has two goals and three assists at the AHL level in 21 games.
Gruden was acquired by the Penguins from the Ottawa Senators in the Matt Murray trade back in October 2020 after he was selected in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL entry draft. He dressed in three NHL games in Pittsburgh last season tallying zero points while averaging just over five minutes of ice time per game. In the AHL this season, Gruden has registered five goals and five assists in 21 games.
Puustinen is probably the most intriguing of the three call-ups as he has the longest track record of offensive success at the AHL level. He has started slowly this year with just five goals and five assists in 18 games but does have one NHL game under his belt back in 2022. In his only NHL action Puustinen recorded an assist in just over ten minutes of action.
The recalls demonstrate just how desperate the Penguins are to find a fix to their bottom six woes. Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to find much success outside of their top two lines, and with injuries to Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell, their lack of NHL quality depth is beginning to become apparent.
In a corresponding move, the Penguins also assigned forwards Alex Nylander and Joona Koppanen to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL. Many thought that Nylander turned a corner at the end of last season, but his play this year has been uninspired. He had no points in five games during this recall and looked overwhelmed on most of his shifts. Koppanen didn’t fare any better, going pointless in three games. He struggled on the Penguins’ fourth line with Pittsburgh unable to generate much of anything offensively with the 25-year-old on the ice.
Finally, the Penguins also announced that they’ve placed center Noel Acciari on the injured reserve. Acciari struggled to start the season but was starting to settle in on the fourth line when he was hurt. He also found a role on the Penguins penalty kill which has been one of the few bright spots for the Penguins this season. Acciari has been unable to dress in the Penguins past three games and won’t be eligible to get back in the lineup until next Tuesday. In 22 games this season, the 32-year-old has two goals and one assist while averaging over 12 minutes of ice time per game.