Ron Hextall wants more contribution from three particular players this season

Published September 13, 2021 at 8:03 PM

Unlike previous years, the Pittsburgh Penguins organization has been pretty quiet this summer. In his first summer as the team's general manager, Ron Hextall made only a few small changes, as forwards Brock McGinn and Danton Heinen will come in to replace Jared McCann (traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs) and Brandon Tanev (selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft).

Even though his team lost in the first round to the New York Islanders in the recent playoffs, Hextall firmly believes that his team's window of opportunity remains wide open. In addition, Hextall has very little salary cap room, which is why he didn't feel it was necessary to make any major changes to his roster.

"I think we have to remember that we won our sectional last year. We didn't feel like we needed to make big changes," Hextall said in an interview with The Post-Gazette.

"With Tanev and McCann, we were over the salary cap by about $3.5 million," the GM added. So we had to make adjustments to be under the cap. It was something we felt we had to do whether we wanted to or not."

Still trusting his core consisted of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kristopher Letang among others, the former Flyers GM is aware that many of his players will have to give more if he wants to remain among the league's elite. He has targeted three players in particular, from whom he expects a better contribution next season.

"I look at our defense and I think Marcus [Pettersson] and John [Marino] can do better than they did last year. I think they will be better players. I also think Jason [Zucker] has been very good in the playoffs and he was great in our last game of the year. I'm confident, though, that he can do more."

"I really think they're going to step up for us and hopefully find ways to win games for us early in the season," Hextall added.

Last season, defensemen Marcus Pettersson and John Marino were unable to repeat their performances from the previous year, collecting nine points in 47 games and 13 points in 52 games respectively. Zucker, meanwhile, scored just nine goals and had only 18 points in 38 regular season games.

Big issues to address in the coming months.

Depending on his team's future results, Hextall will have to make a decision on whether to renew (or not) the contracts of several major players by July 1, 2022: forwards Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust, and defenseman Kristopher Letang. Malkin and Letang have been with the Penguins since the 2006-07 season, but are starting to age, while Rust is a regular member of the Pens' top-6 offense having actively contributed to the 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup wins.

"Can we retain all the players we currently have on our roster? I don't have the answer to that right now," Hextall said.

"I hope we can work out fair deals for both parties with those guys," he continued. At the end of the day, I don't think the two sides will have very different ideas, but I hope we can find some common ground that we can both live with."

So it is with great attention that we will follow the performance of the Penguins next season, they for whom this could be a very last opportunity to win the Stanley Cup with their current core.

Source: TVA Sports
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