Courtesy of PNC

Stats ‘N’ At: Florida reinforcements, Pirates at third, unleashing ‘Vanimal’

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- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

The Penguins' search for a quality third-line center over the past year has been an expensive, exasperating quest.

Jim Rutherford surrendered a first-round pick, a quality goaltending prospect in Filip Gustavsson, and Ian Cole, among other assets, to acquire Derick Brassard last February. Less than a year later, Brassard -- who never took to a third-line role or provided an offensive spark, and didn't appear to appreciate Mike Sullivan's frequent line-shuffling -- is a former Penguin, having been shipped to the Panthers (along with Riley Sheahan, a 2019 second-round pick and two 2019 fourth-rounders) in exchange for forwards Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann.

After surrendering so much draft pick and prospect capital, have the Penguins finally managed to find bottom-line center options who can fit their scheme and can slot in behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?

At the very least, they added some roster flexibility, became younger, and gained some longer-term contractual control by picking up the 26-year-old Bjugstad (signed through the 2020-21 season with an annual cap hit of $4.1 million) and the 22-year-old McCann (signed for $1.25 million per year through 2019-20, at which point he can become a restricted free agent). Bjugstad has shown promise offensively during his career, and McCann has flashed the ability to shut down opponents defensively. But both players,  who were having down seasons for an also-ran Florida team, will need to pick up their play to make it all worthwhile for Rutherford and the Penguins.

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