As the offseason came into view for the Pittsburgh Penguins after the 2022-23 season, one of the many issues that needed to be addressed was that of the blue line. Pittsburgh’s defense for the majority of the past season was both inconsistent and injured, and while some of these issues were out of the control of the front office, it was still obvious there was a need for some change on the back end. And GM Kyle Dubas wasted no time in doing just that, letting unrestricted free agents Brian Dumoulin and Dmitry Kulikov go and signing defenseman Ryan Graves from New Jersey to a 6-year contract, which runs through the 2028-29 season and carries an average annual value of $4.5 million.
What type of player is Ryan Graves?
Ryan Graves will be able to fill many roles for the Penguins that they have been missing over the past few years. Graves is a strongly defensive left-handed defenseman, and in his time with New Jersey this past season, he put up a plus/minus of 34 (9th in the NHL), which speaks to both his defensive skill as well as his ability to facilitate offense. Graves’ defensive prowess was utilized by New Jersey specifically on the penalty kill, where he spent over 180 minutes throughout 78 games. Furthermore, while his offense game is not his strongest suit, Graves was still able to contribute offensively by scoring eight goals and notching 18 assists for the Devils last year.
Graves played primarily on the second defensive pair alongside former Penguin John Marino; however, between his penalty-killing time and his ability to lock down defense in high-pressure situations, he still played an average of nearly 20 minutes per game. Additionally, throughout his past two seasons with New Jersey, Graves has been an extremely reliable player, missing only 11 regular season games out of 164. All of these factors cause Graves to be an extremely valuable and much-needed addition to Pittsburgh’s blue line.
Where does he fit in Pittsburgh?
As a defensive-minded left d-man, Graves would slot perfectly on either the first pairing with Kris Letang or the second pairing with Erik Karlsson. He has proven he can play the minutes, and either of these pairings would give an incredible offensive/defensive one-two punch. In addition, Graves will bring a level of defensive consistency that has been missing from the Penguins’ blue line, both through his durability and lack of injury as well as through his defensively responsible style of play. Finally, his penalty-killing prowess will add more depth and stability to a penalty kill that looks almost entirely different from last season.
Overall, I believe Kyle Dubas knew exactly what he was doing when signing Ryan Graves; he will be an extremely valuable asset to the Penguins this season through his strong defensive play, his versatility on the ice, and simply his consistency game in and game out. This offseason has been one of bolstering the blue line for Pittsburgh, and while moves like the Karlsson trade may be the biggest and most obvious, I would argue that Ryan Graves may be just as important a piece for the Penguins organization in this coming season. We’ll simply have to wait and see.