What to do with five centers

The free agency frenzy has calmed down a bit and the Penguins are close to done with any major moves. The re-signing of Jamie Oleksiak is probably the only significant signing remaining for Jim Rutherford and company.

In the wake of the signings and moves made, the Penguins have five natural centers on their roster: the incumbent Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Derick Brassard, and Riley Sheahan, along with the return of Matt Cullen, who Rutherford has been after since his departure about a year ago.

These are five guys that are legitimate centers. All play the position at a high level, in different ways of course. Crosby and Malkin aren’t moving from 1A and 1B. Brassard would likely be the 3rd line center as he was when acquired last season. Sheahan or Cullen could fit that 4th line center spot, but you can obviously only have one guy be the center.

So, logic would dictate that one of these guys could play wing. If any of these guys moved to the wing, Brassard is the most likely candidate. His skill set is made for a top-6 role and out of the five guys mentioned, is the worst at faceoffs. Also out of the three guys after Crosby and Malkin, he is far behind the two-way/penalty-killing ability of Sheahan and Cullen.

So, it sounds like the problem is solved, right? Nope. Not necessarily. It’s definitely a thought, but these guys aren’t robots. You can’t just assume these guys are okay with playing out of position. It also goes without saying that what goes on in a player’s mind can have a serious effect on his output on the ice.

Do you remember when the Penguins acquired Jarome Iginla? Head coach Dan Bylsma had him play the left side, disregarding that Iginla was a career right-winger. Go back and watch the tape and tell me you saw the same Iginla you saw in Calgary. You can’t. He wasn’t the same player. This isn’t stating that Brassard would have the same problem, but situations like this should remind us that you can’t just move guys around willy-nilly and expect everything to be best-case scenario.

Another option would be trading one of these guys, and again, Brassard would be the most likely candidate. Rutherford could potentially get a decent return, especially for the cheaper cap hit the Penguins have on him thanks to Vegas for picking up some salary.

What are trade needs though? Center? Nope, already too deep. Wing? Not as deep, but right now, a guy like Bryan Rust is a potential 4th-line winger. It’s not an immediate need. Goaltending? Nope. Defense? Once the Oleksiak signing happens, the 3rd pairing will be Jack Johnson and Oleksiak. More than deep enough.

There aren’t many ways to improve the team right now, unless you plan on acquiring a natural left winger who can put the puck in the net and play top-6 minutes that comes pretty cheap. Those don’t grow on trees.

While it’s probably the most likely scenario, if the roster doesn’t change, Derick Brassard will probably play on the left side of Crosby or Malkin. That sounds deadly, but it doesn’t automatically make the chemistry work.

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