Penguins Could Target MacKinnon’s Linemate To Replace Guentzel

The Pittsburgh Penguins decided to become “sellers” ahead of the 2024 trade deadline, sending Jake Guentzel to the Carolina Hurricanes and cutting ties with their winger.

After failing to clinch a postseason berth, the Penguins might not waste much time trying to bolster their roster to give Sidney Crosby at least one more chance at a Stanley Cup title.

Dan Kingerski, a former Sportsnet columnist currently covering the Penguins at Pittsburgh Hockey Now, identified Colorado Avalanche pending free agent Jonathan Drouin as a candidate to become Guentzel’s hole in the lineup.

“The Penguins have a chance to re-fortify their skill in the top six, perhaps finding competent filler for the hole left by the Jake Guentzel trade,” Kingerski wrote on June 7. “If there is a player on the market who could come close to filling Guentzel’s shoes, it might be Drouin.”

Drouin, who turned 29 years old in March 2024, completed a one-year, $825,000 million contract that he signed on July 1, 2023, with the Avalanche. The forward will enter unrestricted free agency on July 1, 2024.

Jonathan Drouin’s Bridge-Deal Season in Colorado

Drouin signed a one-year, bridge deal with the Avalanche after not meeting the potential he showcased during the first few years of his NHL career.

The winger scored 53, 46, and 53 points in the three years spanning 2017-2019 but failed to reach 30 points each of the next four seasons he played with the Montreal Canadiens.

Drouin, however, had a massive bounceback season in 2024 scoring 18 goals and recording career highs with 37 assists and 56 points playing on the right wing of the Avs’ first line featuring Nathan MacKinnon at center.

Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic projects Drouin to get a $5.5 million contract in the 2024 offseason after his superb campaign in Denver.

“Everyone loves a redemption story and there were few better than Jonathan Drouin last season,” Luszczyszyn wrote. “Finally, he looked like the player many expected when he was drafted, scoring a career-high 56 points in 79 games.

“There does need to be some caution exercised with Drouin given his history. But last season felt like a turning point — he belongs in a top six and can make great things happen with his playmaking.”

Drouin, however, missed most of the playoffs due to a cut on his leg but returned for the final three games, contributing 3 assists.

Penguins Could Be Out of Drouin’s Sweepstakes

Allan Walsh, Jonathan Drouin’s agent, confirmed on June 8 in his podcast that he discussed a potential contract extension with Avalanche general manager Chris MacFarland at the NHL Combine during the first days of June.

Walsh didn’t reveal the nature of the meetings, but we can fairly assume that both sides discussed a potential contract extension to keep Drouin in Colorado.

“I don’t want to talk specifically,” Walsh said. “I did meet with Chris MacFarland in Buffalo (at the NHL combine) and had a great meeting with him.

“Both sides have been pretty public also about how we want to make a deal, they want to make a deal. When both sides want to make deals, deals happen.”

The Avalanche, however, face serious salary cap constraints, challenging them if they want to bring back all of their main contributors for the 2024-25 season.

PuckPedia reports that Colorado has nearly $11 million of cap space entering the offseason, but that figure only includes 12 players under contract ahead of free agency.

Making things even worse for the Avs, Gabriel Landeskog (injured without a timeline for a return) and Valeri Nichushkin (facing a six-month suspension) have dubious futures ahead of them while carrying salaries of $7 and $6.13 million respectively.

Avs Might Benefit From Penguins GM Kyle Dubas’ Plans

Penguins General Manager Kyle Dubas talked to reporters at the NHL combine on June 8 and emphasized that the franchise is focusing on acquiring draft picks and young talent rather than making significant signings.

“The major focus for us is on right now acquiring as many young players, as many prospects and as many draft picks as we can to try to infuse the team with really good young talent, young players and then have that stocked up for the future as well and attempt to get us back into contention as quickly as we can,” Dubas said, via Adam Kimelman of

The Penguins acquired Michael Bunting (28 years old) along with three prospects and two draft picks from Carolina in exchange for Guentzel in the deadline trade.

CapFriendly projects the Penguins to enter the offseason with $13 million salary cap space, but Dubas’ comments suggest a preference for building through the draft and integrating younger players with the team’s core veterans rather than adding established players to the roster via free-agent splashes.

“I think the thing that I’ve really learned in the year is that we really have to do everything we can as urgently as possible to infuse the organization with really high-quality younger players and give ourselves a chance to add that by adding draft picks, adding prospects in any chance we can get,” Dubas said. “Because if we can do that, while those players are still playing, that standard [core of] Sid, ‘Geno,’ Kris Letang, Erik Karlsson, Bryan Rust set, that just helps young players come in and get up to speed quicker.”

Colorado will be relieved knowing one of a few potential suitors for Drouin’s services is focused on the draft more than free agency as they navigate contract negotiations.

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