With the start of the 2017-18 NHL season just weeks away, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are still searching for a No. 3 center to play behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But as of now, the focus has been on a winger with ties to Malkin that could possibly be vying to join the Penguins ? high-octane attack.
On Sept. 5, the Post-Gazette ?s Jason Mackey reported that the Penguins were kicking the tires on 36-year-old winger Danis Zaripov, who Malkin reportedly wants on his wing. For now, Zaripov is suspended for two years from the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia for a failed drug test. The suspension was handed down in July.
Mackey reported that the Penguins have talked to ?lots of Zaripov ?s former teammates, gained information from Malkin ? one of Zaripov ?s good friends ?and have had conversations with at least one of Zaripov ?s Russian coaches. ?
On paper, the interest in a 36-year-old winger banned from the KHL (the drug in his system that triggered the failed test in the KHL isn ?t on the NHL ?s banned substance list, so he ?s eligible to play overseas right away) makes zero sense, considering he ?d be the oldest winger on the roster now that Chris Kunitz is in Tampa Bay. With Daniel Sprong, Zach Aston-Reese and other young prospects waiting in the wings, it doesn ?t make much sense for the Penguins to take a shot on a 36-year-old winger with zero NHL experience.
However, if anyone deserves a winger that he specifically wants to play alongside, it ?s Malkin. It ?s not as if Zaripov can ?t play. He has scored 87 goals and produced 227 points the past four seasons, all of them with Metallurg Magnitogorsk team, which is Malkin ?s hometown team.
Despite being just 6-feet tall, Zaripov is dangerous on the power play. Granted, that doesn ?t help the Pens much, considering they have loaded power play units, but adding an offensive threat would never hurt.
Mackey also reported that Zaripov ?s camp has two standing offers. One would assume the Penguins would be one of those, since they ?ve done a ton of homework on him, but I doubt anything is imminent at this point now that the Pens are in training camp.
What makes me hesitant about adding Danis Zaripov is that the Pens already tried this once, getting Malkin a Russian winger in Sergei Plotnikov, whom the Penguins signed in the summer of 2015.
The big Russian winger played just 20 games with the Pens, adding just two assists before being traded to the Arizona Coyotes. Currently, Plotnikov is back in the KHL.
While it wouldn ?t be fair to lump Zaripov ?s possible addition into what Plotnikov produced in Pittsburgh, it ?s enough to raise caution to a possible signing.
It ?s nice to see the Penguins doing their due diligence on the veteran winger out of respect to Malkin and his desires, but at this point, adding an aging winger over finding a third-line center is a mistake.
Maybe the Penguins can take care of both in one fell swoop, but I won ?t hold my breath. I could see Danis Zaripov being more of a mid-season signing, though, should the Pens get hit hard with injuries on the wings once again.