In early 2021, as the shortened 2020-21 season was getting underway, the Pittsburgh Penguins were dealing with a massive number of injuries on defense. The team was without Mike Matheson, Marcus Pettersson, and Juuso Riikola all at once, forcing them to recall 21-year-old Pierre-Olivier Joseph and put him in the lineup. A few days later Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang went down as well, meaning suddenly there were very few trusted names available.
The then-rookie Joseph stepped up, logging nearly 26 minutes and recording three assists in just his fifth NHL game. He followed that with a 26:14 performance two nights later, logging more ice time that night than even Sidney Crosby.
One would think that was the origin story for a key contributor, a player who is in the lineup every night thereafter. That wasn’t the case for Joseph, who played just 16 games total that season and just four in 2021-22. Instead of becoming the stud top-four option that many expected, the young defenseman now finds himself battling for a roster spot.
In fact, he could potentially even find himself on his way to a new organization in a few days. Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff reports that last week, Penguins general manager Ron Hextall reached out to all 31 other general managers and let them know that Joseph is available for trade.
That’s because the Penguins are facing a roster crunch on the back end and may have to waive the 23-year-old if they make it through the next week healthy on defense. With seven other defensemen signed to one-way contracts and Ty Smith locked into a spot, there may not be room for Joseph. His $825K cap hit may actually hurt his chances, as he costs slightly more than depth players like Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Friedman.
Today, the Penguins lost forward Radim Zohorna on waivers to the Calgary Flames. Losing another player – especially one with the upside of Joseph – doesn’t make a lot of sense. Perhaps the team can work out a trade before it comes to that, or decide to risk one of the more veteran names instead.