General manager Ray Shero called Ryan Kesler “a really good hockey player” on Wednesday.
Shero cannot call Kesler a Penguin, though.
The Penguins could not close a deal on Kesler, a coveted center who remained with the Vancouver Canucks past the expiration of the NHL trade deadline.
“We had inquired with them, but … I don't think there was a deal there to be made,” Shero said.
The Penguins and Canucks discussed parameters of a trade, but Shero never formalized an offer beyond informing Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis which assets were available.
Those assets were center Brandon Sutter, a first- and third-round pick, and the Canucks' choice of any defensive prospect in the system — except Derrick Pouliot, a first-round pick from the 2012 draft.
Members of the Penguins player development staff have lobbied Shero to make Pouliot untouchable because their opinion is he could make an Olli Maatta-like transition to the NHL at some point next season.
Maatta, also a first-round pick in 2012, has emerged as a top rookie this season at age 19.
Pouliot is 20.
“Derrick's a big part of our group going forward,” Shero said. “He's a special talent.
“The good thing about the trade deadline is you always know which of your players are good because those are the ones other teams ask for.”
Shero believed the Canucks needed Pouliot to be included in a package for Kesler, who has two years remaining on his contract that is salary-cap friendly at $5 million annually.
Despite being in contact with Gillis since last week, Shero started Wednesday unconvinced Vancouver ownership was willing to part with Kesler a day after trading franchise goalie Robert Luongo to Florida. Gillis told reporters in Vancouver that ownership was involved in his dealings regarding Kesler, though Gillis denied any rift with his bosses.
Landing Kesler would have been a “hockey trade,” Shero said. It would have been his biggest since sending center Jordan Staal to Carolina in exchange for Sutter, defenseman Brian Dumoulin and the 2012 first-round pick that was used on Pouliot.
Sutter, dismayed to hear his fate might be tied to Kesler's future, went from uncertain of his place with the Penguins to being the center for whom Shero landed a couple of wingers.
The Penguins acquired Marcel Goc from Florida and Lee Stempniak from Calgary on Wednesday. The combined costs were third- and fifth-round picks at the 2014 draft and a third-round pick in '15.
Shero lauded both players' “versatility.” Goc also can play center, and Stempniak, a right-handed shot, could see time with captain Sidney Crosby and left winger Chris Kunitz on the top line.
Where they play will be left up to coach Dan Bylsma, Shero said. But upgrading the third line, which has featured Sutter and 16 different wingers, was a priority for the past several weeks.
“What's important to us is our depth at the forward position,” Shero said, noting the Penguins did not sacrifice a roster player for Goc and Stempniak, both of whom are in the final seasons of current contracts.
Shero said those acquisitions also will help with the Penguins' cap flexibility until the Stanley Cup playoffs, when teams can exceed the upper payroll limit.
Goc and Stempniak combine to count $4.2 million prorated against the cap, leaving the Penguins enough room under the $64.3 million cap to clear space for defenseman Paul Martin's potential return before the playoffs, Shero said.
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