Jim Rutherford's number one priority for the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long has been to acquire a legitimate 3rd line centre. With Ian Cole seemingly moments away from being traded, everyone thought they'd have their man by now.
Yet, Cole still remains on the team, and no one's been acquired to fill the position.
But is their third line centre hiding in plain sight? Jonathan Bombulie of TribLIVE believes so, and so do we.
While this option isn't the best, it's certainly not the worst, and it comes at a cheap price. A price so cheap, that it's basically free.
Riley Sheahan has been juggled between the third and fourth lines, playing with grinders on the fourth, and skilled speedsters on the third. His 18 points in 45 games with Pittsburgh aren't mind-blowing by any stretch, but for a 3rd line centre, he doesn't need to produce at a star level. He needs to put up some points, and play a strong 200-foot game to complement the skills of Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel.
And it's been working.
At 5-on-5 play, Sheahan actually leads the entire team in points per 60 minutes of ice time, with 1.59. It's better than Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, and well, everybody else on the team.
He's not a power play player, which is where the discrepancy in point totals come from, and he simply gets less overall ice time. A lot of it has been on the fourth line.
That particular stat is pretty darn impressive, and when you couple that with the fact that he has the acumen to play a 200-foot game, he actually makes perfect sense as the team's 3rd line centre.
“Riley sees the ice pretty well,” Sullivan said, according to Bombulie. “He has good skills. He has good passing skills, and we can play him with skilled players. When we do play him with skilled players, we like his conscientious, 200-foot game. It's important to us to create the balance that we're looking for throughout our lineup.”
If Rutherford and Mike Sullivan feel comfortable with him there, that opens the door for the organization to either pursue a much lower cost 4th line centre like Matt Cullen or Mark Letestu, or conversely, upgrade on the wing.
It would be a bit of a slap in the face after all these months of speculation, but sometimes the best move is the one you don't make.
The Penguins have been heavily connected with Evander Kane on the rumor mill, and more recently have been tied to Rick Nash. If they drop the idea of going for a centreman, that gives them the option to pursue one of these star scorers.