The Penguins' decision to claim Zach Boychuk off waivers and immediately install him at left wing on a line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal a late last month said all one needs to know about the dearth of skilled young forwards in their talent pipeline, at least among the group that is close to being ready for the NHL.
Boychuk has been with the Penguins for six games and has spent most, though not all, of his playing time with Malkin and Neal.
Even so, the next point he gets will be his first.
That's no small feat, considering he's alongside a couple of guys who combined to score 90 goals last season.
If management does not believe first-year pro Beau Bennett -- who seems capable of filling a top-six role for a lot of years -- is ready to contribute now, it should seriously consider giving up some of the assets it has hoarded (to wit, promising young defensemen) over the past few years to acquire a winger who can have an impact on one of the top two lines.
Waiting until the trade deadline gets closer and going after a rental player -- someone who could briefly fill the void if the front office wants to allow Bennett to develop in the minors for the balance of the season -- who might command a lower price would be an option, but if the Penguins don't do something to plug that hole, it could seriously compromise their chances of contending for a Stanley Cup this spring.
For the time being, however, coach Dan Bylsma seems willing to extend Boychuk's audition for a permanent spot on Malkin's line.
He noted that Boychuk made "a pretty outstanding play" to give Malkin a scoring chance during the Penguins' 3-1 loss to New Jersey Sunday night, and that Boychuk got his third breakaway since joining the Penguins in that game.
"He's been able to create for that line, and made some good plays with that line, but hasn't been able to finish them," Bylsma said. "I think he does add to that line, but obviously it hasn't turned into a point. That's what kind of resonates with you when it comes to evaluation.
"He does add with his speed and has done some good things. If he continues to get breakaways – I think this was his third one – he's going to put one of them in."
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