NHL free agency begins two weeks from today, and the Pittsburgh Penguins have multiple holes to fill in their forward lineup. Several options exist outside the current organization, but taking chances on new faces for every spot isn't something general managers usually do. You have to imagine that Penguins gm Ron Hextall is looking to re-sign one of the team's current free agents.
Two Penguins in need of a new contract are Evan Rodrigues and Kasperi Kapanen. Both have value at the NHL level but have seen their respective stocks fall compared to what it was at points throughout the past year.
One of the Penguin's issues last season was having too many players going cold simultaneously, including Rodrigues and Kapanen. To bring back both would be to risk falling into the same issues, but that doesn't mean there isn't value in having one of them.
Rodrigues is coming off his best season as a professional, totaling 19 goals and 43 points. After coming into the season as potentially the 13th forward on the roster, Rodrigues made himself an integral figure on the team as they faced injury issues early on. He fell back into his old production halfway through the season and scored only five goals in the final 50 games of the season.
Kapanen had a very different year than Rodrigues, watching his stock drop substantially throughout the year. Finishing with 11 goals and 32 points in 79 games, Kapanen formed bad habits due to his diminishing confidence. The 25-year-old winger would often pull up on rushes instead of using his skating ability to drive to the net and create scoring chances.
If just one of these players can be signed, it should be Kapanen. While he may be best used as a third liner, his ability to play with players like Sidney Crosby and Auston Matthews makes him more valuable than Rodrigues. Kapanen has a lot to prove next season, and the Penguins would be wise to let him prove it in Pittsburgh.
With the Penguins in a tight spot with the salary cap and plenty of other holes to fill, only one of these players could be returning next season. If that is the case, the opportunity should be given to Kapanen.
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