NHL Trade Grades: Jake Guentzel trade is a clean sweep for the Hurricanes

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Written by Corey Broman, Sean Gentile, and Eric Duhacek

Carolina Hurricanes Get: Forward Jake Guentzel and defenseman Ty Smith.

Pittsburgh Penguins get: 2024 Conditional 1st Round Pick, 2024 Conditional 5th Round Pick, Forwards Michael Bunting, Ville Koivonen, Vasiliy Ponomarev, Lucius Cruz.


Corey Bronman: Jake Guentzel joins a strong Carolina squad, and they hope he can be a piece that can put them over the top. He is a player who can achieve a lot with the puck thanks to his well-developed hands and hockey sense. He's a strong skater who competes well, and even though he's not that big, he competes hard and can create chances at the net. It fits well stylistically with the way Carolina likes to play. They paid a high price for him even though he's not an elite type, and there will be a question as to exactly how productive he would be in a different environment where he's the go-to guy.

Ty Smith is a mobile defenseman who thinks about the game at a very high level. He's shown legitimate offense at various levels, but he's an undersized defender and doesn't defend well.

Bunting is a player Penguins GM Kyle Dubas knows well after drafting him in the OHL as well as signing with Toronto. He is a very skillful and intelligent player who can create a lot of attacks. He competes hard and creates well around the net. In some ways, he has some stylistic similarities to Guentzel, with the main difference being that Bunting is an intermediate level skater. He is a quality player and has signed a reasonable contract as well.

The prospects that Pittsburgh acquired from Carolina follow a trend: skilled forwards with good hockey sense, but lacking high-end athletic traits. I wouldn't call any of them true elite pro prospects.

Cruz Lucius is a skilled and creative winger who has been one of the best forwards on a strong University of Wisconsin team this season. He has legitimate playmaking skills at the college level, but his average size and skating skills lead to questions about how well he will transition to the pros. He has a chance to play games but will need to prove that his game works against men.

Ville Koivunen is also a winger with great skill and vision who can run a professional power play. He has been very productive as a 20-year-old versus men because of his skill, but also because he can create the interior of the offensive zone. Like Lucius, he's also not a great skater and will need to prove that his game will translate at higher levels.

Vasiliy Ponomarev has looked good against AHL players and has had a good showing in the NHL's short form this season. He works hard and has excellent puck skills. But it's a smaller center and skates well but it's not a jacket. He has a chance to be in the top six if he scores.

It's hard to get a premium piece on a rental deal like this; It usually comes down to quantity versus quality. It's interesting how much the player types rhyme in this deal. There have been plenty of skilled strikers exchanging hands, albeit to varying degrees. This deal doesn't leave Pittsburgh in a much better position for the future, unless one of those mid-tier prospects or a second-round pick goes big. It's very possible that Bunting will become the best part of their comeback.

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Hurricane degree: B+
Penguins class: B-


Sean Gentile: At some point during my seven years of watching Jake Guentzel play — it could have been during his 84-point season in 2021-22, but who knows, really — I started to think he was underrated.

Two seasons shortened by coronavirus and a shoulder injury seem to obscure the fact that he has turned into a reliable 40-goal goalscorer, based on pace. Was Sidney Crosby responsible for some of that? Sure, but Guentzel, despite not having any truly outstanding physical tool, believed the game at a level that seemed rare. Personally, I wasn't sure I'd ever seen it before. Not from Pavilion, at least.

So, I was almost relieved that the GM had lightly reprimanded me over the summer. We were under-represented by Guentzel in our NHL Tiers Project, and it's time to press on, the executive said.

“If the goal of hockey is to win, (Guentzel) has to step up,” the general manager said. “He's very good. He does everything right. He gets pucks to the wall. He makes little defensive plays. He makes offensive plays. He's not an elite athlete, maybe, but his mind is elite in the overall sense.”

The end result was the best wing Sidney Crosby will ever play for, a massive coup for the Hurricanes and a trade that could change the balance of power in the Eastern Conference, if not the league. Guentzel is that good. It will cope with hurricanes well. And Carolina needed a player like him — for his mind, yes, but also for elite point production — desperately. It will help on the power play as well; The Pittsburgh issues there have nothing to do with it. It's the comprehensive move the Hurricanes roster has deserved for years. There is no player on the market better at converting ball possessions into points. What is the biggest problem facing Carolina? You guessed it.

For the Penguins, the comeback looks light. Bunting is a top-nine forward who has both positives (his ability to produce with the elite position, as he did in Toronto) and negatives (among them some ugly defensive numbers in Carolina). He'll add something in the two years remaining on his contract. I'm not going to pretend to know anything about three good-but-not-great prospects, but I will say this: Pittsburgh's prospect pool was shallow and short. There was no quality, off the top, and certainly no quantity.

Kyle Dubas, if nothing else, fixed half the problem. And Guentzel, for all his talent, is a pending UFA and is currently out with injury. It was foolish to expect a superstar, a roster player, and a first-round pick. However, there is a compromise between that, and the dollar trades for a quarter, three cents and a piece of gum, and Pittsburgh appears to have come close to the latter.

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Hurricane degree: a
Penguins class: C-


Jake Guentzel probably deserves to return to Carolina. (James Guillory/USA Today)

Eric Duhacek: In the late afternoon through early evening and even later into the evening, The Jake Guentzel Hour felt a little like being on a game show, where the host keeps the contestants annoyingly dangling for hours and hours before finally revealing the winner of the prize.

Well, we knew the winner early on, it was the Carolina Hurricanes. But until you knew what the Hurricanes gave up to acquire the best wing on the trade board, you didn't really know how to proceed, especially if you were a Pittsburgh fan. Was it enough? A little frustrated? Much disappointing? Could that have been enough?

In the end, it looked weak on the Pittsburgh side, making it a clean sweep on each front for Carolina. But let's start with the idea of ​​Penguins general manager Kyle Dubas orchestrating a bidding war for his prized asset, because everyone loved Guentzel — and why wouldn't they? At 29 years old, he's a pure marksman with an impressive playoff pedigree, and someone who can elevate anyone from Stanley Cup wannabe to legitimate contender.

That's also why negotiations dragged on before finally going Carolina's way. Operationally, the Hurricanes ultimately went against everything the organization had stood for since Tom Dundon took over as owner — and gave up a plausible asset to add a player as a tenant. In the past, Carolina resisted the urge to load up at the deadline and ultimately found that didn't work. Once they got to the playoffs, and really needed a difference-maker who could turn games around, they didn't have anyone to turn to.

And they hope Guentzel is that man.

That's a lot to ask, but again, Guentzel's past in the playoffs suggests he could fit the bill. Guentzel broke into the NHL midway through the 2016-17 NHL season and recorded nearly a point per game in 40 regular season games. From there, he gained even more fame for the 13 goals he scored in 25 playoff games, as the Penguins won the Stanley Cup. Guentzel was even better in the second year of the playoffs, scoring 21 points in 12 games. Those 58 points in 58 playoff games? This is important for general managers at this time of year.

The only caveat on Guentzel's resume to this point is that you can accomplish a lot in the NHL when Sidney Crosby gives you the puck — or even when he's with you a lot on the ice. That's because Crosby gets a lot of attention from the opponent, which in turn makes it easier to find layers in defensive coverage if you're lucky enough to ride with him.

Guentzel's greatest strength is his ability to find the soft spots in the offensive zone and then finish the ball around the net. His excellent hand-eye coordination means that the pass doesn't necessarily have to be perfect for him to put it into the net.

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The problem with Carolina is that once you get past Sebastian Aho, the quality of centers declines quickly. Currently among the Hurricanes' forwards, only Aho is on pace to score 30 goals. He is 24 years old. No one else has more than 19 years of age. Balance is great, but sometimes balance only takes you so far. So far, Carolina has not reached the Stanley Cup Final in the Rod Brind'Amour era.

If Brind'Amour chooses to play Aho with Guentzel, can the chemistry he had with Crosby be replicated — and quickly? maybe. probably. But if Guentzel slides alongside the other centers on the roster — Jack Drury, Jordan Staal or Jesperi Kotkaniemi — well, that's not the same, is it?

However, Guentzel's hockey sense makes you think he'll find a way to make it work — wherever he gets in. He is a quick study. Guentzel was in the final year of a contract that pays him $6 million per season and had a modified no-trade clause for 12 teams. Not every 5-foot-10 forward is necessarily prized this time of year, because the physical play usually becomes more difficult in the playoffs. But his size hasn't hindered Guentzel in the past playoffs — and there's no reason to doubt he'll continue.

He's been out since Feb. 14, recovering from an upper-body injury, but he's been skating, so conditioning shouldn't be an issue. If he returns by mid-March, that should be enough time for him to shake off the rust, get his timing up to speed and then figure out which position he settles into to play with.

On the other side of the equation, the fact that Pittsburgh got Michael Bunting back from Carolina was no surprise. Bunting's history with Dubas is well established — and goes back to Sault Ste. Mary days. Bunting joined the Hurricanes as a free agent last summer, signing a three-year contract for a modest AAV of $4.5 million. So, he was basically a free agent for them. Ponting was a good player, riding shotgun with Auston Matthews in Toronto, so he should find a home with Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. However, with the arrival of Goentzel, Ponting has become expendable.

The rest of the package depends on how much you like the fact that the first-round pick is conditional, as is the fifth-rounder, and that the Hurricanes traded and He didn't do that Part with Alexander Nikishin, Bradley Nadeau or Scott Morrow, who were 1-2-3 on Scott Wheeler's list of top prospects in Carolina.

Instead, Ponomariov, Koivonen and Lucius finished sixth, seventh and ninth in Carolina. Everything may play out in the end. Will any of them reach the heights of Guentzel? Probably not.

In fact, it looks like a real steal.

Carolina only paid a reasonable price for a player with significant upside. Maybe even a great tournament. Pittsburgh got quantity over quality. This rarely ends well.

Hurricane degree: a
Penguins class: C

(Jake Guentzel Image: Mike Ehrman/Getty Images)

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