The Pittsburgh Penguins are still without a top defenseman. With free agency now less than two weeks away, the Penguins need to dig deep to either re-sign Kris Letang or find a replacement.
The Penguins have a reputation for rehabilitating defensemen like Matt Niskanen, Justin Schultz, Trevor Daley, and most recently, Mike Matheson. All joined the team with a list of flaws and complaints about their game.
Under the tutelage of this coaching regime, players have found a way to turn their game around. Coach Mike Sullivan and staff are charged with pulling off this same trick again, and here are a few players that might fit the bill.
The most interesting name out there for the Penguins is left-handed Will Butcher. Originally drafted by Colorado, Butcher broke out as a rookie with the New Jersey Devils. His offensive talent and power-play skills jumped out at opposing teams and scouts alike.
He collected 44 points in his first year, followed by 30 points and 21 in the shortened 2019-2020 season. Since then, he has been on a downward path and was moved from New Jersey to Buffalo last off-season. He only played 37 games this past season, registering a meager 8 points.
What sticks out the most about him is his offensive and puck-moving abilities. If Letang moves on, they'll need another steady defender to man the power play. Butcher has shown a penchant for power play scoring and could help to fill the monstrous gap that would be left by Letang's departure.
Despite his drop off in play in Buffalo, the Penguins have often gotten more out of players once they leave that organization (see Evan Rodrigues and Chad Ruhwedel). Add in assistant coach Todd Reirden's knack for getting the most out of his d-men, and Butcher could be the perfect candidate to turn his career around in Pittsburgh.
One key factor is whether management decides to move on from one of their current left-handed defensemen. Unless the team trades Brian Dumoulin or Marcus Pettersson, there is no need for another left-handed defenseman.
Coach Sullivan is strict about playing left-handed defensemen on the left and right-handers on the right. Adding Butcher would force someone to play on their off wing.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are rumored to be interested in John Klingberg if they can't resign Letang. It makes sense that there would be some chatter, but the Penguins are likely not interested in dealing out a massive contract to anyone. Instead, they may opt to pursue a player like Colin Miller.
Miller is a bit of a journeyman defenseman, with stops in Boston, Vegas, and most recently, Buffalo (like our friend, Will Butcher). Miller's career bests came as a member of the Golden Knights when he put up 41 and 29-point seasons between 2017 and 2019.
After his trade to Buffalo, he similarly regressed in every category. It's almost as if playing for a terrible franchise can negatively affect all the players who are a part of the team?
Miller makes sense for the Penguins, regardless of whether or not they retain Letang, but especially if Letang departs. Miler is a right-handed shot and has experience on both special teams units.
During his career year in Vegas, he put up 17 power-play points and used a powerful slap-shot to help get pucks on the net. If he can find those parts of his game, paired with some slight tweaks from Coach Sullivan's staff, Colin Miller is a great candidate to be the next Penguins' reclamation project.
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