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Offseason Targets For Penguins To Accelerate On-Fly Rebuild

There’s a trend developing with the Penguins, and it’s one no one in Pittsburgh wants to endure for much longer.

The Pens’ 16-year playoff streak ended in 2022-23 with a disappointing fifth-place finish in the Metropolitan Division. Things got even worse this past season when the 88-point Penguins once again were on the outside looking in at the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s the first time the Penguins have missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since going four straigh — all last-place finishes from 2001 through 2006 before the Sidney Crosby era began in earnest.

Thus, it’s another pivotal offseason for Kyle Dubas and the Penguins front office. Pittsburgh doesn’t own a first-round pick after trading it to San Jose for Erik Karlsson, meaning an even greater emphasis will be placed on free agency and the trade market.

Dubas is projected to have just under $13 million to play with this summer, a relatively modest amount, but it does help that Pittsburgh doesn’t have major free agents — unrestricted or restricted — to retain.

Here are a few potential targets on the market ahead of July 1.

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Alex Nedeljkovic (goalie)
OK, so this one is a little bit of cheating. Nedeljkovic is obviously one of Pittsburgh’s own UFAs, but it makes sense to bring him back. The 28-year-old looks like a more than adequate backup for Tristan Jarry, posting nearly identical numbers to Jarry albeit in 13 fewer games. Nedeljkovic posted a .902 save percentage in his 33 strts, going 18-7-7. It makes sense to bring him back, especially if there’s no market for him as a starter.

Jake DeBrusk (winger)
Someone like Sam Reinhart would be a dream addition for the Penguins and just about every team, the Panthers included. Tyler Bertuzzi makes sense, too, if he gets out of Toronto, and a Jake Guentzel reunion should be considered as well. DeBrusk, though, may come a tad cheaper with the cap considerations, and he could be a really solid fit alongside Crosby’s left. DeBrusk flourished at times in Boston with elite linemates, and Crosby’s playmaking skills could elevate DeBrusk’s skill set. He’s come into his own as a veteran, too, so he’d check a couple of boxes with production and intangibles.

Brett Pesce (defenseman)
The blue line might be the biggest area of need for the Penguins; only seven teams had a higher expected goals against during the regular season than Pittsburgh. If Carolina lets Pesce get to market, the Penguins should be among the teams ready to pounce. He’s a solid two-way defenseman who is largely just plug-and-play. He’s dependable and won’t make any messes. The production isn’t anything earth-shattering, but for a unit that already has Erik Karlsson not to mention the talent up front, it’s not like the Penguins need a true puck-mover to bolster the offense. Like DeBrusk, he has a reputation for being good in the room and could be a big part of the evolving core in Pittsburgh.

Featured image via Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports Images