With Lee Stempniak set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, he knew his name would come up in trade talks approaching Wednesday’s deadline. It’s a tough situation to deal with, but fortunately it ended up working out as Calgary sent him to an ideal destination – Pittsburgh.
The Penguins acquired Stempniak from the Flames for a 2014 third-round draft pick right before the deadline hit on Wednesday afternoon. And the 31-year-old winger, who hasn’t been to the playoffs in his three seasons with Calgary, can’t wait to meet the team in San Jose and get going with his new club.
“I knew there was a chance I was going to be traded and had no idea where. When I found out it was Pittsburgh, I was really excited,” Stempniak said in a phone interview Wednesday evening. “A team that’s at the top of the Eastern Conference and one of the best teams in the league, and with the players they have – just heard great things about the organization. It’s really exciting and I can’t wait to join the team and start helping winning games.”
It’s not just Pittsburgh’s pedigree that has Stempniak excited, it’s the way they play the game. He feels his style will be an excellent fit with the Penguins’ systems.
“Just from watching and playing against them, they play a really fast game and really push the pace,” Stempniak said. “For me, I think that skating is a strength of my game (as well as) being aggressive and getting on the forecheck. Those are things that are exciting to me as a player because that’s the way they play.
“So a big thing is to get out there and just be skating, moving the puck and creating a buzzing in the offensive zone and really generate scoring chances. For me, that’s an exciting thing.”
In addition to Stempniak’s skating, head coach Dan Bylsma pointed out his new winger’s shot and goal-scoring touch. The 31-year-old reached double digits in goals in seven of eight seasons before the lockout, including a career-high 28 in 2009-10 with Toronto and Phoenix (he scored 14 of those in 18 games with the Coyotes after being traded there at the deadline) and 27 in 2006-07.
The right-handed shot has played the right side for the majority of this season, which means there’s a chance he could slot in alongside Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby. But as Stempniak is also comfortable on the left – playing there the first three years of his career – the coaches have a lot of options they can choose to exercise with him.
“Obviously (playing on the first line) would be a really exciting opportunity,” Stempniak said. “Sid’s the best player in the world and Kunitz is a great player too. For me, it’d be a great opportunity to be able to play on that line. But honestly, I’m more than happy to play wherever the coaches want. For me, I just look at a team that’s top of the Eastern Conference and winning games. I just want to come in and help in any way that I can and really play any role that I can. So whatever the coaches want, I’m more than happy to do.”
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