Could #Pens Forward Prospect Tom Kuhnhackl Be Moved Before the Trade Deadline?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Kuhnhackl has clearly fallen out of favor with the WBS coaching staff as evidenced by his lack of opportunities in the AHL this season.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins roster could look very different 24 hours from now as Wednesday's 3 p.m. deadline for NHL teams to trade approaches. A lot of AHL guys have already been on the move, and even more should be moved tomorrow as usually prospects and picks get moved from a contending team to a team looking to rebuild for next season.

If not dealt before tomorrow's deadline, Simon Despres, Brian Gibbons and even Chuck Kobasew, who cleared waivers today and remained with Pittsburgh, must be re-assigned to the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins before 3 p.m. ET tomorrow or they will remain with Pittsburgh the rest of the year. Any player on an NHL roster at Wednesday afternoon's trading deadline is ineligible to play in the AHL the rest of the 2013-14 season, including the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs.

One name on the AHL Pens I think you could see in tomorrow's transactions leaving the Penguins organization is forward Tom Kuhnhackl, who has seemingly fallen out of favor with the coaching staff with the AHL Penguins.

After missing most of his first professional season in 2012-13 after 11 games with another shoulder injury (his third), Kuhnhackl started this season on the WBS Penguins top line left-wing position alongside center Andrew Ebbett and right wing Chris Conner, scoring four goals in his first seven games in October.

Since then Kuhnhackl has scored just four goals in his last 41 games and has spent most of the season battling for ice time in the AHL Penguins lineup. He's been held scoreless in his last 13 games and has only been in the lineup for three of the team's last eight games, being a healthy scratch in four of those eight games and even missing one game while re-assigned to Wheeling for a one-game stint in the ECHL last Friday night while the Penguins played in Syracuse.

There isn't room for Kuhnhackl in the AHL Pens top-six right now and with guys like Andrew Ebbett, Dominik Uher, Adam Payerl and Anton Zlobin already signed through next season and Matia Marcantuoni and Jean-Sebastien Dea on their way in 2014-15 as well, Kuhnhackl won't have an easy time finding top-six minutes next year either.

Not to mention impending restricted free agents Jayson Megna, Brian Gibbons, Spencer Machacek, Zach Sill and Bobby Farnham in the mix, now might be the time to move Kuhnhackl, who at 22 and with one year left on his contract, could still be a good player at the AHL level if given an opportunity in the top-six and on the power play.

This is a situation (with Kuhnhackl) similar to the one the Penguins had with Paul Thompson, who managed just four goals in 39 games with the Pens this season before being traded to Columbus in exchange for forward Spencer Machacek.

Sure Thompson's contract was expiring and he was an impending free agent at the end of this season, but if the Penguins trade a guy like Brian Dumoulin or Scott Harrington in a package deal for Ryan Kesler, it wouldn't be a surprise for the Penguins to make a swap involving Kuhnhackl to an AHL team in exchange for some AHL depth on the blue line. The potential move would give Kuhnhackl a new home where he would get top-six forward minutes and power play time.

An AHL-veteran defenseman with an expiring contract that could bolster the WBS blue line would make sense in a possible Kuhnhackl trade. I thought a guy like Portland Pirates defenseman David Rundblad (a right-handed shooting defenseman the WBS Pens lineup is missing) would've been a good fit, but he has since been traded to the Chicago Blackhawks along with defenseman Mathieu Brisebois.

With Rundblad staying in the NHL and Brisebois reporting to Chicago's AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs, perhaps a veteran defenseman like a Brian Connelly or Theo Peckham would be available with young defensemen Adam Clendening and Klas Dahlbeck playing well and nine blue liners currently on the IceHogs roster, if the Penguins wanted to go that route.

Maybe the Bridgeport Sound Tigers would be a good fit for Kuhnhackl after their NHL-parent club New York Islanders called up forwards Anders Lee and Ryan Strome. Would any of their impending offseason free agents - Marc Cantin, Matt Donovan or Joe Finley - help the WBS blue line?

Just like in the NHL, there aren't too many AHL teams out of playoff contention. Just be sure to know one thing heading into tomorrow's trade deadline: almost anything can happen and several moves are going to occur league-wide in the next 15 hours.


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