Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford has been candid about being in the market for a top-six winger or two since the start of the season. Friday, he got one, and he didn’t have to part with a current roster mainstay or one of the organization’s top prospects to do it, flipping journeyman forward Rob Klinkhammer – acquired last month for minor-league defenseman Philip Samuelsson – and the Penguins’ 2015 first-round draft pick to Edmonton for David Perron.
The 26-year-old Perron, a former first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues, put up 57 points (28G, 29A) for the Oilers last season. He’s also been durable – a key selling point for the injury and illness-plagued Penguins – missing only four games in the past three seasons.
“I’ve been looking for a top-six forward, especially a winger, since the first month of the season. They’re hard to come by,” Rutherford said. “We were finally in a position [to] find a guy that we feel could come in, help our forwards, give us more depth up front. He can play both wings comfortably. He’s a right shot, likes to play the left side but, based on our injury situation, I would suspect he’ll start on the right side with us until we get our full team back.”
Perron isn’t just a short-term pickup for the Penguins, with another year remaining on his contract at a $3,812,500 cap hit. That falls in line with other Pittsburgh top-six forwards Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, the latter of whom’s status on long-term IR gave the Penguins the cap flexibility to make the move.
“It gets a little trickier now,” Rutherford said. “We can still make moves but, any future moves we make, we would have to take somebody out of our lineup, and I like what the guys have done to this point. Everybody, in different ways, has contributed to where we are. So we’ll just watch the team to see what the needs are and, if we feel we still have needs, we have lots of time to add.”
The Penguins were happy to make the acquisition without involving the names of top defensive prospects like Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington – both currently with the team, with Pouliot in particular looking like he might not be going back to the AHL anytime soon.
“[General managers] are definitely always asking for those [defensive prospects], and it’s not always the same guy,” Rutherford said. “Not saying that I wouldn’t part with one, but it would take an awfully important deal for us to do that.”
The first-round draft pick wasn’t easy to part with, either, especially in a deep draft year, but Rutherford felt Perron was worth the cost.
“I view [him] as a very good asset,” Rutherford said. “It is going to be a good draft; certainly, that draft pick should be a good young player. But we also got a player that’s fairly young; Perron’s only 26, he’s coming into the prime of his career. And, as long as the contract works out long-term and he fits here, he could be a good player here for a good six, seven years.”
The cost for Perron might have been lower in January than it would have been at the March trade deadline, but that’s not the only reason it was Rutherford’s preference to make the deal now.
“When you look at deadline deals, there’s not many of those deals that impact the playoffs.” Rutherford said. “You don’t have a lot of time to get a guy into your team and get accustomed to your team. I like to make a deal in January. Now David can come in and he’s got time … there will be an adjustment period, of course, but he can get used to his teammates; everybody can get to know each other.
“With that being said, as we get closer to the deadline, if something makes sense for us, we’ll still do it. But I think you have a better chance of that player having an impact on your playoffs if you get him sooner than later.”
Perron will join the Penguins Saturday, when they host the Montreal Canadiens. He’ll see a familiar face in Pittsburgh assistant coach Gary Agnew, who filled the same role in St. Louis in 2012-13, but will find himself in a much different situation as he leaves the league’s last-place team and arrives on one of its top ones, playing alongside a world-class center in Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby.
“It’s always hard leaving a place when you’re emotionally involved, no matter how tough the situation here was,” Perron said. “Once you look past that, there’s not many better opportunities to go to and I’m really, really excited about that. Anybody in the same shoes that I’m in, [after] you’ve been in the league a few years, you want a situation for yourself to win.
“It’s going to be great, and I’m just looking to go in and fit in however I can. I think that’s one thing [Oilers interim head coach] Todd [Nelson] and [former head coach] Dallas [Eakins] appreciated of me, to be able to get shuffled around the lineup and still try to bring my best effort every night. I’ll try to do the same thing over there and, whoever I’m playing with, it won’t matter.”