Last off-season, the Pittsburgh Penguins went on a signing spree, inking a whole bunch of defenseman with even the slightest NHL experience to two-way deals in hopes that bolstering their defensive depth would pay off. The 2016 names included Chad Ruhwedel, Cameron Gaunce, Steve Oleksy, David Warsofsky, Stuart Percy, and Tim Erixon. After a season where their NHL defensive corps suffered injury after injury and the AHL depth was constantly called upon, even earning Ruhwedel a new contract, the Penguins are back at it again this summer. New additions already include Zach Trotman, Jarred Tinordi, Chris Summers, and an extension for Trade Deadline acquisition Frank Corrado as well.
Add another name to the list, as the Penguins announced today that they have signed Kevin Czuczman to a one-year, two-way deal worth the $650K minimum at the NHL level. Czuczman spent the 2016-17 season with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose on a minor league contract, but posted the best scoring numbers of his entire hockey career, with 32 points in 76 games. The former Lake Superior State standout has NHL experience as well, as he signed with the New York Islanders out of college in 2014 and played in 13 games down the stretch with the team, recording two points. Since, Czuczman bounced around the Islanders’ minor league affiliates and then moved to Manitoba, establishing himself as a good defensive defenseman and a locker room leader along the way. Czuczman will provide some solid stay-at-home depth for a team that often lacks that type of player.
Will Czuczman see any NHL action in 2017-18 though? Probably not. The Penguins’ top six of Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole, and newcomer Matt Hunwick is well-established and Ruhwedel has likely earned the #7 spot. Down in Wilkes-Barre, Corrado and Derrick Pouliot will push for roster spots and, assuming they fall short, will certainly be the first call-ups. Trotman, who played in large chunks of the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons with the Boston Bruins, and Tinordi, who was a spot starter for the Montreal Canadiens for years, are then next up on the depth chart. That would make Czuczman approximately 12th on the Pittsburgh organizational depth chart. With all that said, if any team is gonna blow through eleven defenders this season, it’s the injury-prone Penguins. Czuczman chose his new home wisely.