Pittsburgh Penguins: Bottom-Six Lacks Scoring Depth After Free Agent Signings

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

 

There may be no more entertaining general manager in all of sports than Jim Rutherford. Even with his Pittsburgh Penguins right up against the salary cap, that didn’t keep Rutherford from making deals on the first day of free agency.

Even though he didn’t make any big moves, he took care of that already this offseason, Rutherford managed to get on the board with a couple of signings on Friday, one of which a very familiar face.

It’s been an interesting 2020 for Evan Rodrigues (as well as everyone in the world, to be fair). Rodrigues, unhappy with his playing time with the Buffalo Sabres, requested a trade, banking on himself to produce given the proper opportunity.

He eventually got that wish, getting traded to the Penguins, along with Conor Sheary. Rodrigues would only play sparingly across seven games, registering a lone goal. A pending free agent, his rights were traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the deal that brought back Kasperi Kapanen to Pittsburgh.

After he wasn’t extended a qualifying offer, he became an unrestricted free agent and was brought back by Rutherford on an one year deal.

You can’t make these things up. Rutherford is the real-life version of my EA NHL 20 franchise mode.

Also, the Penguins snagged up former Calgary Flames center, Mark Jankowski to an one year deal.

Both deals are for the league minimum $700,000 for the upcoming season.

The Penguins entered free agency with a very specific list of needs, players to play on the third line to play with Jared McCann. While they certainly added forwards, what do they bring to the table?

Maybe more importantly, with the window to win with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin continue to close, are they a better team now with them, or not?

Jankowski, Defensively Sound, But Where’s The Offense?

A former first round pick by the Flames, Jankowski scored a total of 31 goals in his first two seasons in the NHL, all the while playing strong defensively. Entering his third season, the Flames was hoping he’d breakout into a two-way center that could play in the team’s middle six, and live up to his first round billing.

A five-goal campaign derailed that, and Jankowski was non-tendered by the Flames, becoming an unrestricted free agent.

Even with scoring 31 goals in his first two seasons, a harder look at Jankowski’s metrics shows little to be excited about in his offensive game.

Goals per 60 minutes

0.71

52.3% 

Primary Assists per 60

0.37

11.7%

Points per 60 minutes

1.37

26.7%

Expected goals per 60

0.65

49.8%

Shooting Percentage

12.20%

83.5%

Giveaways per 60 minutes

1.97

67.3%

Takeaways per 60 minutes

2.60

9.0%

You could probably make a case that Jankowski might be able to rebound and find some of his scoring touch again. He can finish, as shown by him being in the 83rd percentile for shooting percentage of all forwards with at least 1,500 minutes at 5v5 over the past three seasons.

This past season saw Jankowski shoot the puck at the lowest rate of his career. His 4.06 shots-per-60 minutes rate was almost two shots lower than his 2018-2019 output. His shooting percentage (15.05%) was actually the highest of his career. 

He just took an all-time low in shots.

Is it that simple? Just have Jankowski shoot the puck more? It might not be that easy when looking at his numbers as a whole.

Corsi For %

50.90%

57.1%

Goals For per 60

1.84

9.6%

Goals Against per 60

2.53

41.7%

Goals For %

42.06%

7.5%

Expected Goals for per 60

2.25

37.5%

Expected Goals Against per 60

2.06

90.7%

Expected Goals For %

52.12%

66.4%

On Ice Shooting %

6.36%

9.3%

On Ice Save %

91.33%

24.9%

Off Zone Start %

53.53%

64.9%

All numbers are adjusted for score and venue, all on 5v5. Percentile rankings based off of all forwards with 1,500 5v5 TOI over the past three years.

For someone with his shooting percentage, Jankowski hasn’t done much else to generate offense. He has been great defensively, so much so that it has lifted his stagnant offensive numbers to a point where he still ends up on the positive side for expected goal share.

Rodrigues: More Opportunity in Second Tenure?

You have to wonder if Rutherford sees what some people say about him and tosses a little gasoline on the fire to keep it burning.

The list of players that the Penguins’ general manager has traded, only to eventually reacquire is a long one, and Rodrigues became the most recent entry. 

Although he didn’t get much of an opportunity in his first stint, the Penguins saw enough from him to target him once he hit free agency after the Maple Leafs didn’t qualify him.

Goals per 60 minutes

0.51

16.5%

Primary Assists per 60

0.61

58.9%

Points per 60 minutes

1.51

35.4%

Shots per 60 minutes

8.59

84.1%

Shooting %

5.97%

5.1%

Expected Goals per 60

0.55

21.9%

Giveaways per 60

1.73

51.1%

Takeaways per 60

1.80

57.1%

Rodrigues banked on himself when he requested for a trade, believing in himself enough to make that kind of statement. 

Although the former Boston Terrier scored 21 goals his senior season, he has done little to make anyone believe he can make that translate to the NHL. Using the same sample size as Jankowski from Natural Stat Trick, shows just about the same story when it comes to Rodrigues.

He isn’t afraid to shoot the puck (84th percentile in shots/60), but just hasn’t been able to finish. His shooting percentage is among the worst in the league over the past three seasons.

Corsi For %

50.11%

46.2%

Goals for per 60 minutes

2.17

27.0%

Goals Against per 60

2.61

33.3%

Goals For %

45.38%

20.1%

Expected Goals For per 60

2.06

14.1%

Expected Goals Against per 60

2.21

64.9%

Expected Goals For %

48.24%

29.7%

On Ice Save %

6.96

19.8%

On Ice Save %

91.70%

36.6%

He doesn’t do that much for the helping influence others on the ice with him. In fact, he brings down production in just about every offensive category listed.

Looking To Next Season

So the biggest question is going to be, where exactly do the Penguins plan on playing both Jankowski and Rodrigues? The easy answer will be on the third line with McCann. At this point in the offseason those were the only two spots up for grabs in the lineup.

In a perfect world, this is what the opening night lineup is on pace to be for the Penguins.

Jake Guentzel

Sidney Crosby

Kasperi Kapanen

Jason Zucker

Evgeni Malkin

Bryan Rust

Mark Jankowski

Jared McCann

Evan Rodrigues

Brandon Tanev

Teddy Blueger

Colton Sceviour

The top-six is, of course, really good. A healthy Guentzel takes some pressure off of Crosby and as long as Kapanen is able to find open space in the offensive zone, he really just has to keep his stick on the ice and be ready.

But that bottom-six is just, well doesn’t present much of anything offensively at all.

The Penguins must really be banking that Rust is a legit 30-goal scorer. Also that everyone else on the first-two lines stay healthy and pitch in at least another 30-goals each.

There’s just isn’t a lot of offensive upside when it comes to the team’s bottom-six. They are going to limit chances, yes, as they all post better than average defensive metrics. Just don’t expect a lot of scoring when Crosby and Malkin aren’t on the ice, maybe more so than in previous years.

You just don’t get the feeling that either of the bottom-two lines are capable of taking control of games like the Tampa Bay Lightnings’ third line of Blake Coleman-Yanni Gourde-Barclay Goodrow did during their Stanley Cup run.

It’s going to be several years before the Penguins can even start thinking about being players when it comes to big names during free agency. With their back against the salary cap, they did their best with that they had available to them. 

And while Jankowski brings a strong defensive game, and the Penguins seemed really excited about Rodrigues during the restart, they don’t seem to bring enough in the terms of scoring and driving offense to bring Pittsburgh the kind of scoring depth needed to win in the NHL these days.

Rutherford was able to sign two depth players to their roster on the first day of free agency, but the signings start to fall short when you start planning for them to occupy the third line.

While he may still have more up his sleeve, right now the Penguins could find themselves struggling to score with this projected lineup. Which is crazy considering Crosby and Malkin are still playing.

What do think of the Penguins signings during free agency? Can Jankowski and Rodrigues hold their own on the third line, or does Rutherford still have some work to do? Let us know what you think in the comment section below and follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy.











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