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Penguins Primer: Offseason Outlook 2023

A complete roadmap for a pivotal Penguins' offseason.

As the first month of the offseason begins, we examine the hockey events that will occupy this extended summer break before the team returns to action in the 2023-24 season to avenge their playoff qualification failure.


During the summer layoff, there are over a dozen events with plenty of on-ice action remaining for those experiencing hockey withdrawals without the Pens. Here's what remains to anticipate:

May 2nd-3rd: Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two.

The second quarter-final round of the playoffs commences in the first week of May. Currently, the matchups include the Oilers vs. Golden Knights and the Stars vs. Kraken in the Western Conference. In the Eastern Conference, the contests will be decided between the newly curse-free Maple Leafs vs. Panthers and the Hurricanes vs. the Rangers or Devils, depending on their Game Seven showdown on Monday, May 1st.


The next round will determine which teams punch their tickets to the conference championships. Those will get underway in mid-May, with specific dates contingent on the number of series reaching Game Seven in the second round.


May 8th: NHL Draft Lottery.

2023 NHL Draft Lottery odds chart
Image by NHL PR.

The Penguins have a chance, albeit small, to vault into the top five in the draft in this year's lottery, presenting a highly appealing outcome following a disappointing season. Their 14th seed in lottery odds grants them a 1.5% possibility of leaping up to the fourth overall pick. Lottery rules prohibit any team from jumping more than 10 spots forward to ensure that the worst-performing teams hold the best odds at improvement. Consequently, the Penguins won't have a shot at the expected #1 overall pick, forward phenom Connor Bedard. Securing the fourth pick would still position them in the running for top-tier future star talents such as Adam Fantilli, Matvei Michkov, Leo Carlsson, and Will Smith.


The draft lottery, scheduled for Monday, May 8th, at 7 PM (ET), will finally determine the winner of the much-anticipated "Bedard Sweepstakes." The Anaheim Ducks possess the highest odds of claiming the number one pick at 18.5%. The lottery will be broadcast on ESPN in the US, Sportsnet, and TVA Sports in Canada, and online streams can be accessed through ESPN+ and Fubo (US), as well as SN NOW (Canada).

May 12th-28th: IIHF World Championships begin.

The 2023 World Championships are set to kick off in about two weeks in Tampere, Finland, and Riga, Latvia. Several Penguins have already been named to their respective national teams, including Nick Bonino (F) and Casey DeSmith (G) for the US, and Alexander Nylander for Sweden. They'll be joined by Penguins alumni Olli Maatta (Detroit, D) and Kasperi Kapanen (St. Louis, F), both playing for Finland. Additional Pens-related players may be added as national teams progress further into the selection process. We’ll be keeping an eye on the rosters of Team USA, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and Czechia for other Penguins, current and former, in particular for you for any additions.


[Note: Jake Guentzel was scheduled to play for Team USA but a last-minute injury has forced him off of the roster.]


Late May to Late July: Pittsburgh's pro summer league- The G.O.A.T. League.

NHL Players J.T. Miller and Vincent Trocheck
Photo by Penguins.com.

Pittsburgh’s very own professional and pro prospect 4-on-4 summer league began during the 2022 offseason. The group hosts doubleheader games every Wednesday at the Pens' UPMC Lemieux Center practice facility. Teams feature local NHL players, alumni, and prospects.


The schedule and participants will be released on the league’s Instagram page @goat4v4 around the end of May. Past participants have included J.T. Miller, Vince Trocheck, John Gibson, Logan Cooley, Zemgus Girgensons, Matt Bartkowski, Liam Walsh, Ty Loney, and 2023 top 100 ranked NHL draft prospect Brandon Svoboda.


May to Early June: New Penguins management hires made.

The new General Manager and whatever other hockey management structure the Penguins eventually settle on putting into place are likely to be set well ahead of the draft. That means we should see additions by early June since this year's draft takes place from June 28-29th. While the Penguins' current scouts could handle the draft preparations themselves for their new bosses, it's a critical process to shaping the teams' future plans which makes it likely the new skipper will want to put their own stamp on their first draft by using their own personnel. That likelihood is strong especially considering the current scouting department was mostly placed by the now-fired former GM Ron Hextall & his number two Chris Pryor and they have a highly controversial draft decision history in every organization they've run.


June 3rd: Stanley Cup Finals begin.

The Stanley Cup
Photo by Getty Images.

Who will be the final two teams contending to lift Lord Stanley's Cup this season? Will it be the league's leading scorers, the Oilers, facing off against the President's Trophy-winning Bruins? Or perhaps the newcomers, the Kraken, will challenge the perennial also-rans, the Rangers? We'll find out beginning on the first Saturday in June. The Finals will once again be carried on ESPN and ABC in the US. CBC hosts the game broadcasts for Canadian audiences.


June 26th: NHL Awards in Nashville.

The Penguins will likely have a presence at this year's festivities, with stroke survivor Kris Letang being the team's nominee for the Masterton Trophy. The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is handed out yearly to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. He is perhaps the strongest candidate for that award. The defenseman suffered his second stroke and lost his father within three months last season, and then returned to play in elite form, all at the age of 35. Letang is a good bet to be one of the final three nominees who appear at the show. The chances of him taking home the hardware are just as high.

June 28th-29th: 2023 NHL Draft in Nashville.

The highly anticipated Connor Bedard sweepstakes will finally take place during the last weekend in June. The Penguins are unusually well-positioned in this deep draft due to their disappointing near-playoff miss. They are guaranteed a top-15 pick after ending the season 14th in the standings. A slight chance to move even further up also exists as explained in the draft lottery section. It all makes for one of the most critical drafts in the team’s recent history. The first round of the 2023 NHL Draft will air live from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on ESPN at 7 PM (ET) in the US. Day two of the Draft with rounds 2-7 will continue on NHL Network with an 11 AM (ET) start time. Both days will be streamed online for US audiences on ESPN+ as well. Sportsnet and TVA Sports (French) will carry the Draft in Canada.


July 1st: Free Agency.

The highlight of the summer offseason arrives on July 1st when Canada Day and Free Agent Frenzy converge in a wondrous swirl of Canadian-fueled magic. The Pens have a notable group of unrestricted free agents this season, with nine players currently set to enter the market. This group includes significant names who have been prominent figures for many years, such as Jason Zucker, Brian Dumoulin, and Tristan Jarry, along with Dmitry Kulikov, Nick Bonino, Danton Heinen, Josh Archibald, Dustin Tokarski, and Drake Caggiula. On the restricted free agent side, there are crucial contributors like Drew O'Connor, Ryan Poehling, Ty Smith, and Alexander Nylander for the team to negotiate salaries with. Additionally, around the league, several Pens alumni are poised to hit the market, including Jordan Staal, Patric Hornqvist, Teddy Blueger, and Evan Rodrigues.


First Week of July: 2023-24 NHL schedule release.

The regular season schedule for next year is expected to be released shortly after the Draft on June 29th and Free Agency on July 1st, typically in the first week of July. The first details unveiled are the opponents and dates for home openers, followed by the release of the complete 82-game calendar the next day. This will provide us with insights into the itinerary the Pens will face in the 2023-24 season as they strive to regain their customary place in next year's playoffs.


Pittsburgh Penguin Owen Pickering
Photo by Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mid to Late July: Pens Development Camp.

Prospect camp traditionally follows the week or two after the draft. However, the new management search might impact the dates or even the occurrence of the event at all this offseason. In the year the team transitioned to Ron Hextall as GM, they did not host the popular event. However, it is reasonable to assume that most new leaders would view this as an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the team's operations and assess the contents of the Penguins' very understocked prospect cupboards.


Highlights among those sparse ranks include defenseman Owen Pickering (Swift Current, WHL), who gained his first taste of pro action with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this year. Another notable prospect is Joel Blomqvist (Kärpät, Liiga), the Penguins' potential “goalie of the future”. Several other young talents, such as Isaac Belliveau (D; Gatineau, QMJHL), Nolan Collins (D; Sudbury, OHL), Taylor Gauthier (G; WBS, AHL), Ryan McCleary (D; Portland, WHL), Lukas Svejkovsky (F; WBS, AHL), and Tristan Broz (F; Denver, NCAA), are eagerly awaiting this chance to climb the depth chart.


July 12th-August 23rd: Da Beauty League.

The NHL's most notable pro summer league features numerous prominent players, including a significant contingent of current and former Penguins. The games receive sponsorship from major corporations and are broadcast live online on the league’s website, in addition to being played in front of a packed arena in Edina, MN. It’s a very professionally run operation for an exhibition league, complete with all the bells and whistles you’d expect in hockey-mad Minnesota like full locker rooms, coaches, & their own complete uniforms.


Participants typically include Penguins-related locals for the area, such as Jake Guentzel, Jason Zucker, Ryan Poehling, Tristan Broz, Mitch Reinke, Teddy Blueger, Alex Goligoski, and Nick Bjugstad. Players who train nearby also join in, such as Jake Oettinger, K'Andre Miller, Zach Parise, Brock Nelson, Derek Stepan, Matt Dumba, Brady Skjei, James Van Riemsdyk, Joonas Donskoi, Blake Lizotte, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Forbort, Erik Haula, Justin Holl, Anders Lee, Brock Boeser, Casey Mittelstadt, and Jake Gardiner. It’s practically its own NHL All-Star Game roster.


Without a doubt, it stands as the most elaborate pro hockey summer league ever, serving as a welcome distraction during the long, hot, NHL hockey-deprived dog days of summer. The schedule for Da Beauty League's 2023 season will run from July 12 to August 23 at Braemar Arena in Edina, MN. Three games will be held each night for most of that period, culminating in a championship match as the finale. For complete times and dates, please check their full schedule here.


Late July to Early August: RFA Arbitration Hearings.

The Penguins have a substantial number of high-profile restricted free agents this year, including Drew O'Connor, Ryan Poehling, Ty Smith, and Alexander Nylander. Some of these players may choose to undergo salary arbitration, which typically takes place in late July and early August. Especially noteworthy are O'Connor and Poehling, who played pivotal roles on the Pens roster last season and are expected to be crucial contributors in the upcoming year. Consequently, they might feel justified in seeking a higher contract award through the arbitration process. The specific dates for each player's salary hearing should be announced a few weeks before they are set to commence. We will update you as those details unfold.



Early-Mid September: NHL Prospects Challenge.

Often interchangeably called the "Rookie Tournament" the Penguins have been long-time participants in the annual London and now Buffalo-based Prospects Challenge. Teams attending usually include regional rivals with strong prospect pools like the host team Sabres Senators, Canadiens, and Bruins in some combination. The utility of the tournament speaks for itself. It's where Stanley Cup Champions like Connor Sheary and Olli Maatta first made big splashes that brought them to the attention of the team's NHL staff. It has proven it can be a launchpad to winning an NHL contract or even making the leap to the Penguins' main roster. This year it will be particularly important as an evaluation tool with new management that is about to start running the show. More ice time, more competition against fellow top prospects, and more data on how your futures perform are crucial information for any team, but especially during transitional periods when inventory is being taken. The new Pens regime will want to see for themselves what their pipeline has in store.

Often interchangeably referred to as the "Rookie Tournament," the Penguins have been long-time participants in the annual Prospects Challenge, initially held in London and now based in Buffalo. Teams attending typically include regional rivals with strong prospect pools, such as the host team Sabres, Senators, Canadiens, and Bruins in various combinations depending on the year.


The utility of the tournament speaks for itself; it's where Stanley Cup Champions like Connor Sheary and Olli Maatta first made big splashes that captured the attention of the team's NHL staff. The event has proven to be a launchpad for securing an NHL contract or even making the leap to the Penguins' main roster. This year, it holds particular importance as an evaluation tool for the new management that is about to take charge.


More ice time, extended competition against fellow top prospects, and additional data on

how your futures perform in real-game situations are crucial information for any team, especially during transitional periods when internal inventory is being taken. The new Pens regime will want to see for themselves what their pipeline has in store.


Overall, this offseason for the Pittsburgh Penguins will offer an array of events, ensuring that fans still have plenty to look forward to during the disappointing extended summer break. From the Stanley Cup Playoffs and NHL Draft Lottery in May to the IIHF World Championships and management hires in June, anticipation will continue building towards the 2023-24 season. With Free Agency, the NHL Draft, and developmental camps on the agenda, the Penguins' layoff period will also be a key strategic period as they aim to reshape their roster and prepare for the challenges ahead.


 

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Owen Robinson is the founder, site editor, and lead writer for Pens Report. A resident of the North Hills he’s covered the Penguins as a reporter and photographer for various outlets since 2011, including through two Stanley Cup seasons. In his spare time, he enjoys classic film, concerts, photography, Mac Miller, and hanging out with a good cat. You can follow him on Twitter @itsowenrobinson.


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