Pascal Dupuis has been pesky from the beginning. He was considered a throw-in for the trade that brought superstar Marian Hossa to the Penguins in 2008. The Penguins tossed the then-Thrashers two then-promising younger NHL roster players in Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen and Pittsburgh needed a forward back. That's how Dupuis, a fairly anonymous 28 year old who bounced around 3 NHL teams made his way to Pittsburgh.
From there, he hasn't left. He was largely a 4th line member of the Pens in 2009 when they won the Cup, bumped down the lineup by the acquisitions of Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin. Players came and went over the years, but Dupuis hasn't. And he hasn't missed more than 1 game in the past four seasons, becoming a dependable name to plug into the lineup every night.
With or without Sidney Crosby, Dupuis has discovered a late-career scoring touch. In 2011-12, as a 32 year old he set personal season highs in goals (25), assists (34) and points (59). This year, he's got 17 goals in 35 games. Two seasons ago he scored 17 goals in 81 games, and the year before that he netted 18 goals in 81!
Dupuis' new-found scoring touch aside, it's the things that don't show up on the scoreboard that have led coach Dan Bylsma to say the first line of Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis won't be split up, even with the addition of front-line player Jarome Iginla. Dupuis is a forechecking terror, and all the time he's spent in Bylsma's system has made him very comfortable and positionally about the perfect player. Beyond that the image of Dupuis using his speed and tenacity recently to terrorize and force turnovers out of no less than Zdeno Chara stands out. Good things happen when Dupuis is on the ice, and they happen because he works hard and gets to where he should be.
Despite the increased scoring, Bylsma doesn't even give Dupuis any power play time because he is too valuable to the PK. Dupuis minutes aren't managed, but his usage is skewed towards defensive responsibility for a traditional "1st line" winger who might find himself more offensively blessed like Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin or Tomas Vanek.
Those three names are mentioned as goal-scoring wingers and Dupuis has as many or more goals than all of them so far this season. That's the class he finds himself in for scoring goals this season.
And for that reason, the Pens are going to have to find somewhere else to play Iginla for now. Despite Iginla undoubtedly being more skilled, the chemistry built between the Pens current line has been four years in the making. That can't be replicated in a few weeks before the 2013 playoffs begin.
Should Dupuis cool off, or situtationally if the Pens need a goal, they can always try to pair Crosby and Iginla and see what happens, but for now Pittsburgh has the luxury of having the highest scoring line in the league, which means they can create a murderous "second" line of Iginla and James Neal on the wings for last season's scoring champion Evgeni Malkin.
Which would free up recent acquisition Brenden Morrow to play on a checking line (and I do mean *checking* line) with Matt Cooke and Brandon Sutter. Such a physical line, and such depth is exactly what GM Ray Shero and the Penguins wanted to have, and what they felt they were lacking, even in the midst of their current winning streak.
And, in part thanks to a pesky player who's stuck around and been a great fit on the first line in Pascal Dupuis, they'll be able to try virtually whatever line combinations they want down the roster.