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NHL scout breaks down 5 potential Penguins trade targets

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, 6:45 p.m.
The Rangers' David Desharnais is one potential trade target if the Penguins want to improve their depth at center.
The Rangers' David Desharnais is one potential trade target if the Penguins want to improve their depth at center.

ST. LOUIS — It's a search that feels like it's gone on for as long as Dr. Richard Kimble was looking for the one-armed man.

By his own admission, general manager Jim Rutherford thought he had the matter wrapped up earlier this season, only to have a potential deal fall apart at the last minute.

It's the Penguins' quest to add center depth to their third and fourth lines, and finally, with the trade deadline two weeks away, it's nearing the home stretch.

The first trade Rutherford made for a bottom-six center this season seems to be working out pretty well. Riley Sheahan, picked up from Detroit in October, isn't going to get any Hart Trophy votes, but he's performing depth center tasks in a more-than-commendable fashion.

Still, the center spot remains the most glaring area of need on the roster. Carter Rowney has had an injury-plagued, up-and-down season, and beyond him, there is precious little NHL experience.

The possibility remains Rutherford will make a big splash by the Feb. 26 deadline, bringing in a high-profile rental for an all-in run at a three-peat. To do that, however, for salary cap reasons, he'd have to make fairly significant roster alterations to a team that has gone 11-4-1 since Jan. 1.

The simpler plan would be to improve the roster by adding a bottom-six center with a small salary for a low cost. Here are five options in that vein with an NHL scout giving his take on each player:

Matt Cullen, Minnesota

2017-18: 52 games, 5 goals-8 assists-13 points, minus-7

Salary: $1 million

The Wild are in a tight playoff race, so they won't be sellers, but Cullen isn't faring as well in Minnesota at age 41 as he did in Pittsburgh at 40. His versatility and character are big plusses.

Scout's take: “If he went into Pittsburgh, it would be his comfort zone. Anywhere else, I'm not so sure. Anywhere else, it would be a struggle at times.”

David Desharnais, Rangers

2017-18: 52 games, 6-18-24, minus-11

Salary: $1 million

If the idea is to add a center who might find some offensive chemistry with Phil Kessel to keep the Penguins' lines balanced, Desharnais is as skilled as they come at this pay grade.

Scout's take: “Can he make plays? Sure. But he's not a shutdown guy who can give Malkin or Crosby a break. I think they want a guy who can battle, scratch and claw so those guys can get mismatches.”

Mark Letestu, Edmonton

2017-18: 52 games, 8-9-17, minus-15

Salary: $1.8 million

The former Penguins center doesn't check all the boxes, but he has enough talent to play with skilled players and enough smarts to be responsible defensively.

Scout's take: “He's a fourth-line power-play guy and PK guy. I don't think he can play against the bigger players. I don't think he's quick enough. Certainly smart enough and eager enough.”

Jared McCann, Florida

2017-18: 39 games, 5-8-13, plus-2

Salary: $891,167

McCann hasn't found a perfect fit since coming to Florida from Vancouver in the Erik Gudbranson trade. He has some untapped talent and good two-way game.

Scout's take: “He's one of those guys that was a first-round pick, but you have to accept he is what he is. He's not going to play higher up in your lineup, but he can skate.”

Derek Ryan, Carolina

2017-18: 53 games, 11-15-26, minus-15

Salary: $1.425 million

Late bloomer has provided a nice dose of depth scoring for the Hurricanes for two years. He would be attractive if he fits well with Kessel.

Scout's take: “He's a versatile fourth-liner who can play on your second power play. I'm not sure he can be a shutdown guy, but yeah, a little offense. Smart player.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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