The Pittsburgh Penguins still don’t have a third line center after Nick Bonino went to Nashville, but they still have plenty of time during this Penguins off-season. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said he’s going to keep being patient with this as he wants to make a good trade, not just a panic one. There are some good options out there for their third line center role so let’s take a look at a few of them.
Pittsburgh Penguins Targets for Third Line Center
Bryan Little, Winnipeg Jets
Little hasn’t been rumored in trade talks with any teams but this would be a great fit in Pittsburgh. Bryan Little is one of the most underrated players in the league as he has quietly goes about his business each season in Winnipeg. This past season he had 21 goals and 47 points for the Jets despite only playing in 59 games. He’s been hampered by injuries the past couple of seasons but when he’s healthy, he’s great offensively. His best season came in 2013-2014 when he had 23 goals and 64 points and that happens to be the last time he played a full 82-game season.
This season, Little’s Points/60 was 2.02, which was fourth best on the team minimum 750 minutes played. Nick Bonino, who was the Penguins third line center this season, had a Points/60 of 1.43, so this would be a big upgrade in terms of offense. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff isn’t one to make many trades in Winnipeg as he’s usually not that active in that department. If the Penguins were to try and pry him out, they’d likely have to move one of their defenseman, plus a high pick, and potentially a prospect. That’s a price that could make sense to acquire a player like Little.
Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs
Tyler Bozak‘s name has been mentioned in some trade rumors this off-season as he’s in the last year of his deal with Toronto. Toronto will have some cap issues coming up in a couple years as they’re going to have to extend their young core players such as Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. They won’t have room to keep someone like Bozak around and they could sell him this off-season and get something in return for him before he likely hits the open market next summer.
Bozak would be another great fit for the Penguins but the problem would be that he’s only under contract for one more season, and they’d have to re-sign him to keep him from hitting the market next summer. He could potentially play with Phil Kessel again as the two of them had great chemistry together during their time in Toronto. Last season, Bozak had 18 goals and 55 points which is the most point he’s had in his career. His even strength points-per-60 was also outstanding, as it was 2.14. That was second best on the Leafs for players that played 1,000 minutes. There’s definitely a pathway to this trade as the Penguins have made a few trades with the Leafs the past couple years and this is another one that would make a ton of sense for not just the Penguins, but for the Leafs too.
Andreas Athanasiou, Detroit Red Wings
This is probably the least likely of the three options in this article but it would make a ton of sense for the Penguins. Andreas Athanasiou is a young player and he’s currently a restricted free agent, so he’d likely get a small raise after having 18 goals and 29 points this season for Detroit. It was only his second season in the league as he had nine goals his first year in the league. Athanasiou is only going to get better as he enters his peak years. His even strength points-per-60 was 1.95, which was fourth best on the Red Wings for players that played 500 minutes this past season.
It’s hard to see the Red Wings moving on from him but he won’t come that expensive and with Ken Holland running things, you just never know. He’s played right wing during his first two seasons with the Red Wings but is a natural center, so putting him there shouldn’t be a big transition.
Detroit is being forced to rebuild as they have a lot of long contracts committed to players on the roster who just aren’t as good as they used to be. Athanasiou would absolutely thrive in Sullivan’s system and he would get better linemates in Pittsburgh than he would likely be getting in Detroit. For example, he could play with Kessel if they want to put a superstar on each line like they did in the 2016 Stanley Cup run. They also could put him with someone such as Bryan Rust or Patric Hornqvist seeing as the Penguins are loaded with wingers and he’d potentially produce better offense than Nick Bonino did.
Jim Rutherford is going to continue to be patient with his approach and it’ll be interesting to see if one of these three players end up being the Penguins third line center next season.