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Niskanen says he'd like to stay in Pittsburgh for long haul

| Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, 6:48 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen plays against the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center Jan. 19, 2013.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen doesn't want to go anywhere. In fact, if the Penguins want to talk business, he's all ears.

Niskanen, whom many expected to be traded in a salary move this summer, has been an important figure in the team's 6-1-0 start and made it clear Friday he wants to stay with the Penguins.

“Absolutely I do,” he said. “I'm not going to bring it up with them. I don't think that's my place. But if they would come to me at some point down the road, I would have a lot of interest in staying here.”

Niskanen is in the final season of a two-year contract that pays him $2.3 million annually.

General manager Ray Shero, whose preference is to not negotiate contracts during the season, declined to comment.

Niskanen, 26, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and signing him to a long-term deal could be difficult for the Penguins, who have approximately $18 million in salary locked into the blue line next season. The organization also has a wealth of defensive prospects in Olli Maatta, Simon Despres, Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin — all of whom are or are close to being NHL-ready.

Niskanen, however, hinted strongly that he would consider staying in Pittsburgh for less money than he could receive on the open market.

“It obviously depends on a lot of things,” Niskanen said. “But I will say that I put a big emphasis on winning. And this is a good place to be for that.”

Niskanen, a slick puck-moving defenseman who can play the left or right side, could command significant money on the open market.

He largely credits assistant coach Todd Reirden with resurrecting his career after a streaky start in Dallas. He also makes it no secret that he loves the Penguins and Pittsburgh.

“I know I'm not going to get anything like Tanger's deal,” Niskanen said with a smile, referring to Kris Letang's eight-year, $58 million extension signed in July. “I realize that. I think there is a lot to be said for staying put in a place that you like and in a place that likes you. I love it here, and the fact that this is a good team that wants to win adds a lot of value to the decision when the time comes.”

Through the season's first two weeks, only two NHL defensemen have produced more points than Niskanen's six. He leads the NHL with a plus-10 mark, and he and defenseman Rob Scuderi have formed a strong pairing.

Niskanen has been more influential in the offensive zone than in years past, firing one-timers at will. He scored the game-winning goal on a one-timer against Tampa Bay last Saturday.

Reirden recently said Niskanen may have been the Penguins' best defenseman in training camp. Coach Dan Bylsma also offered glowing praise of the former first-round pick.

“(Plus-minus) can be a deceiving stat,” Bylsma said. “But plus-10 jumps off the page as a player playing some great hockey through seven games. Matt's been great. His numbers are pretty gaudy right now.”

“I definitely feel good about the way I'm playing right now,” Niskanen said. “And I'm definitely where I want to be.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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