Hurricanes land Jake Guentzel in blockbuster trade

Michael Bunting, three prospects and two conditional draft picks were sent to Pittsburgh

The Hurricanes acquired winger Jack Guentzel from the Penguins on Thursday. (Matt Slocum / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Hurricanes landed arguably the top player on the trade market Thursday night, acquiring Penguins winger Jake Guentzel and defenseman Ty Smith in a six-player trade that sends Michael Bunting, three prospects and two conditional draft picks to Pittsburgh.

Guentzel, in the final year of a contract that averages $6 million annually, has scored 219 goals, the 21st most in the league over the past eight seasons, and 466 points in 503 career games since entering the NHL in 2016. He had 22 goals and 30 assists for 52 points through 50 games with Pittsburgh this season. The Penguins retained 25% of Guentzel’s salary, making it a $4.5 million cap hit for the Hurricanes that mirrors Bunting’s outgoing contract. The NHL’s trade deadline is Friday at 3 p.m.

Carolina also added Smith, a former first-round pick whose career has fizzled after a promising start. On top of Bunting, the Penguins received Ville Koivunen, Vasily Ponomarev and Cruz Lucius, along with conditional picks in the first and fifth rounds.

“Jake is an elite goal scorer and playmaker who has produced at a high level for his entire NHL career,” Hurricanes president and general manager Don Waddell said in a press release announcing the deal. “Ty is a young, offensive-minded defenseman who will provide us with another reliable option on the blue line. We’re thrilled to bolster our lineup as we compete to bring the Stanley Cup back to Raleigh.”

The 29-year-old Guentzel, who was born in Nebraska and grew up in Minnesota before playing collegiately at Nebraska-Omaha, has done much of his damage at even strength, scoring 142 of his goals at 5-on-5.

Guentzel has also produced in the postseason, scoring 34 goals with 58 points in 58 career playoff games. That includes 13 goals in the Penguins’ run to the Stanley Cup in 2017 and eight goals in Pittsburgh’s seven-game series against the Rangers in 2022.

Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei played for Guentzel’s father Mike, an assistant coach at Minnesota, in college and sang the praises of the two-time 40-goal scorer after Thursday’s win over Montreal.

“I know the family really well and Jake’s an unbelievable guy,” Skjei said, “and he’s gonna fit in great here and all the guys are gonna love him.”

While Guentzel gives Carolina the goal scorer many believe it lacked in recent seasons, he doesn’t come without concerns.

Much of Guentzel’s success has been tied to playing with all-world center Sidney Crosby. Over the last three seasons, Guentzel played almost exclusively with Crosby and had tremendous success, outscoring opponents 147-111 and posting 55.39% possession at 5-on-5, according to When Guentzel was on the ice without Crosby — which wasn’t often; almost 86% of Guentzel’s 5-on-5 time came with the Pittsburgh captain — his goal differential dropped to 21-24 with 42.92% possession.

Guentzel is currently on injured reserve with an upper-body injury and last played on Valentine’s Day, but he is eligible to come off IR and could play Sunday when Carolina hosts Calgary.

Bunting signed a three-year, $13.5 million contract with the Hurricanes last offseason. He has 13 goals and 23 assists for 36 points in 60 games with Carolina this season with a team-worst minus-15 plus/minus. He played for first-year Pittsburgh GM Kyle Dubas in Toronto the previous two seasons and also with the Soo Greyhounds when both were with the Ontario Hockey League junior team.

Koivunen and Ponomarev were both second-round picks in 2021 and 2020, respectively.

Koivunen, a winger, played 12 AHL games at the end of last season, scoring once, but returned to Finland this year as Carolina is without an AHL affiliate. Ponomarev, a center from Russia, joined AHL Chicago at the end of the 2021-22 season and helped Carolina’s then-affiliate win the Calder Cup. He played all of last season and most of this season in the AHL. He had a two-game recall this season and got his first career points, scoring a goal and adding an assist.

Lucius, a winger who was a fourth-round pick in 2022, is in his second season at the University of Wisconsin. His older brother Chaz was a first-round pick of the Jets in 2021 and plays for Winnipeg’s AHL affiliate.

The conditional draft picks are tied to the Hurricanes’ postseason success this year. If Carolina reaches the Stanley Cup final, Pittsburgh will get the Hurricanes’ first-round pick in this summer’s draft. Otherwise, the Penguins will receive Philadelphia’s previously acquired second-round pick in 2024. If the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh would also get a fifth-round pick.

Smith, the 17th overall pick in 2018, had back-to-back 20-point seasons with the Devils in his first two years as a pro but spent most of last season and all of this year with AHL Wilkes Barre/Scranton after being traded to the Penguins organization two offseasons ago. He has nine goals and 23 assists for 32 points in 51 games with the Baby Penguins this year.