While the biggest stories of Wednesday afternoon were the hotly anticipated acquisition of Phil Kessel and the exodus of the Penguins free agents, the Penguins quietly built up their depth on day one of free agency.
Acquired in the Kessel trade, defenseman Tim Erixon should shore up the Penguins defense as a depth option. Erixon, 24, was the Calgary Flames first round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft.
He’s bounced around the league since then, being traded several times, and was claimed on waivers a year ago. He is signed to a one-year, one-way contract worth $600,000 at the NHL level and will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
Erixon’s size – he’s 6-foot-2 and 199 pounds – was the reason he was highly sought after in the draft and remains his biggest asset. Through all his bouncing around, he’s never been worse than a minus-7 and never had more than 52 penalty minutes for a team in any season. He should be a perfect seventh defenseman for the Penguins.
The Penguins also brought in another former first-round pick in the Kessel trade: right-winger Tyler Biggs. Biggs, a native of Loveland, Ohio, was the Leafs’ first-round pick in 2011 and has been widely considered to be a bust, scoring just nine goals over his last two seasons in the AHL.
He’ll get the opportunity to revive his prospect status with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2015-16. If he’s able to, the Penguins may be have found a modern power forward, as the 6-foot-3, 224-pound Biggs is, well, big.
While the Penguins traded away some of their depth to get Kessel, they have made the first step towards re-stocking the system with the acquisitions of Erixon and Biggs.
The Penguins also made official the signing of Russian winger Sergei Plotnikov, which the Pittsburgh Sporting News reported last week, and inked top Wilkes-Barre/Scranton rookie Conor Sheary to an entry-level NHL contract.
They then brought in four free agents on one-year, two-way deals to bolster the depth in Wilkes-Barre. Signing on for the 2015-16 campaign were centers Kael Mouillierat and David Porter and defensemen Steve Oleksy and David Warsofsky
Porter and Mouillierat will replace departed WBS Penguins veteran centers Andrew Ebbett and Nick Drazenovic. Ebbett has already signed in Switzerland, while Drazenovic is unlikely to be re-signed after missing large stretches of the last two seasons with injuries.
They will also serve as mentors and competition for young Penguins center Oskar Sundqvist, who will be coming over to North America this season.
On defense, Oleksy and Warsofsky will provide much-needed depth to what was once the strength of the organization. Those two will be joined by youngsters Reid McNeill and Harrison Ruopp, Swedish import Niclas Andersen and minor-league vet Barry Goers on Wilkes-Barre’s blueline.
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