Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
A defense of Joe Vitale and why he deserves to have a regular roster spot.
Joe Vitale, you haven't had a regular roster spot on the Pittsburgh Penguins for very long, but that hasn't stopped me from becoming a fan of what you bring to the team. You may not be a core player or a 40-goal scorer. You may not log 25 minutes of ice time or be a regular face on SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays. Nevertheless, the qualities you bring to the team speak to your unique value, and it baffles me when you're a healthy scratch.
The worth of a fourth liner is often buried under three more productive lines, but the Pens' fourth line this season has been something to behold. Along with Craig Adams and Tanner Glass, you have created a dynamic that is not only fun to watch, but has shown far more consistency than most of the other lines. Every time 46, 27, and 10 would take the ice, I would see Dan Bylsma's infamous system take a life form and, many times, be that spark the Pens sometimes desperately needed.
But you, Vitale, are something else. Your stats won't impress many: You have two assists in 15 games, just over 10 minutes of ice time, no special teams responsibility, but you do boast the best faceoff percentage with 65.2%. However, your game isn't about stats.
What I love about your game is how committed you are to doing your job. I never see you take a shift off and no task is too tall. I love (and cringe at) the way you speed into corners to win battles along the boards; there's an air of recklessness about it, like your well-being matters little so long as you win. You don't always win, but you'll go into those danger areas just as aggressively when the opportunity arises because the boards are your playground.
I love that you have a pesky agitator in you and you can find ways to get under people's skin. The best part is it stems from your high-energy play, not extracurricular antics that don't belong in the NHL. And if you need to engage in extracurricular activities, we know you can hold your own.
Then there are times when we can't help but shake our heads and say, "Wow, what a play."
For these reasons, it's disappointing to see the game day reports noting you will be a healthy scratch. Most recently against the Florida Panthers, I understand (and agree with) wanting to give Dustin Jeffrey a chance. My problem is that you, Vitale, were the odd man out. I have no idea what part of your game is lacking for Bylsma to sentence you to a coat and tie for the duration of games. The energy you, Adams, and Glass bring to each shift is unmatched at times. If I did have to pick someone from the fourth line to sit, I would rather it be Glass, even though he has duties on the penalty kill.
However, you won't be a healthy scratch for long, considering the most recent, unfortunate circumstances that Evgeni Malkin is experiencing concussion symptoms. I wish it didn't take injuries for you to be a sure starter, mainly because you don't deserve it. You're one of those players who puts everything he's got on the ice. You're the type of player Bylsma's system is made for and you excel in it.
Hopefully Bylsma will be able to see that.