Penguins deadline acquisition Jeff Carter expected to be vital cog

·4 min read

May 31—Over the decade's worth of NHL trade deadline-day deals between 2010-20, the Pittsburgh Penguins twice added former All-Stars, twice reunited with old friends and even twice added future Hall of Famers.

But over that time span they never added a player who made an impact like Jeff Carter did after the Penguins acquired him at the deadline in 2021.

Carter had more goals (15) over his 42 days playing for the Penguins (including playoffs) than any player in the NHL had in that time span (Carter debuted with the team April 15 and had the opening goal in their last playoff game May 26).

More than other big names such as Jarome Iginla, Patrick Marleau or Alex Kovalev, Carter can be considered the Penguins' best deadline-day pickup since at least Bill Guerin in 2009.

"When we got him, it was pretty cool to see," wing Jake Guentzel said during a video conference call with media last week.

"Just a special player," Guentzel said moments earlier. "What he does all over the ice — his scoring ability, his playmaking (and) he's really good on draws in the (defensive) zone."

Carter was second on the Penguins in points over the 20 games combining the regular-season stretch run and first-round playoff loss playoffs to the New York Islanders. Carter had 13 goals and three assists, behind only the one goal and 16 assists by defenseman Kris Letang in that time.

Carter centered the Penguins' second line over much of that time because Evgeni Malkin (right knee injury) was out for all but nine of those games. When Malkin was available, Carter became one of the most overqualified third-line centers in the NHL.

Jared McCann was by far the winger most often skating on a line next to Carter.

"He's been great for me," McCann said. "He's been a role model, a guy I always looked up to even when he wasn't playing for us. It's been great to know him on a personal level."

While former general manager Jim Rutherford often made his biggest splashes at other times of the year, over his six deadline days as GM he added four defensemen who won titles with the Penguins — three as major contributors (Ian Cole, Ben Lovejoy and Justin Schultz).

In between Penguins' Stanley Cups in the Sidney Crosby era, Iginla made the biggest impact of any trade-deadline pickup (nine goals in 28 games).

More often, though, it was long-forgotten pieces such as Alexei Ponikarovsky, Jordan Leopold or Erik Gudbranson whom Rutherford or former general manager Ray Shero acquired over the deadlines of the 2010s.

The deadline-day addition of Guerin was similar to that of Carter's in that both were well worthy of Hall of Fame consideration before their arrivals in Pittsburgh. Each had been a Stanley Cup champion. Carter was 36 and had 390 career goals when the Penguins traded for him; Guerin was 38 with 403 career goals when the Penguins picked him up from the Islanders on March 4, 2009.

Guerin had 12 goals in 41 games the rest of that season (five in 17 regular-season games and seven in 24 playoff games). Though that doesn't match Carter's production, Guerin did his part in helping deliver something much more coveted: a Stanley Cup.

Still, the Penguins' first-round failures were of little fault of Carter, who had 25% of their goals. Unlike Guerin was, Carter is under contract for next season.

Like Guerin, though, Carter quickly became a Penguins leader. To wit, it was telling that when a reporter asked Brandon Tanev a question about the Penguins' "core" of Crosby, Malkin and Letang, Tanev mentioned "Cartsey" (Carter) in referencing "our leaders."

One of the conditions attached to Carter's trade was a 2023 draft pick sent to the Kings that would be upgraded to a third-round pick if Carter plated at least 50 games in 2021-22. At the time of the deal, that didn't seem assured. But after Carter's debut six weeks with the Penguins, the organization almost surely views Carter — even as he surpasses age 37 — as a vital cog on next season's team.

Keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at cadamski@triblive.com or via Twitter .