With the Penguins off to yet another torrid start early on in the season, just about every one of General Manager Jim Rutherford's off-season player acquisitions is starting to look like a sure-fire slam dunk.
And while the likes of Patric Hornqvist and Blake Comeau continue to enjoy their time on Pittsburgh's top two lines, it's been fourth-line center Marcel Goc who has quietly impressed in pretty much every game he's played so far.
Brought in from Florida at last year's trade deadline, Goc's time with the Penguins was limited in 2013 to just 21 games between the regular season and playoffs. Turning down more money elsewhere, Goc decided to re-sign (somewhat unexpectedly) with Pittsburgh on a one-year, $1.2 million deal.
One of Rutherford's quieter moves of the summer, Goc has also proved so far to be one of the most frugal.
At first glance, that seems like a ridiculous sentiment, all things considered. After all, a fourth-line center with just one goal through 13 games doesn't exactly jump off the stats page at you, however a deeper look reveals some startling and rather impressive underlying numbers for Goc.
For one, Goc is one of the teams best and most prolific penalty killers on a PK Unit that hasn't given up a goal in weeks. Obviously a 100% success rate on the PK is unsustainable, but Goc, who leads the team in average short-handed time/game, has been a big reason for the Penguins good fortunes down a man.
He's also seen his usage shift pretty dramatically this year.
Goc, whose long been lauded for his defensive prowess, has seen his role as a traditional "shut-down" 4th-line center increase astronomically under head coach Mike Johnston. Taking just under 25% of his total face-offs in the offensive zone, no other forward on Pittsburgh's roster receives fewer starts in the attacking zone.
If it continues for the rest of the year, 2014-15 will be the fewest amount of offensive-zone starts in Goc's career.
For years, Goc has been a player that earns his keep by doing the little things right. The Pens best face-off man, he's won nearly 57% of his total draws so far this season.
Which is not to say he's a total drag on offense, either.
A lot of the time, people throw out the term "defensive specialist" to describe a player whose ability to effectively contribute to the team ends once they get the puck on their stick, and while defense is obviously a strong suit of Goc's, calling him a strictly defensive specialist isn't completely fair.
A Shots/60 of 5.71 puts him squarely in the middle of the pack for Penguins forwards, despite seeing fewer opportunities to put the puck on net than any other player in the lineup.
He's got seriously soft hands as far as fourth-line players go, which, when you consider who he plays with, is all the more amazing. Full-time duty with Zach Sill and Craig Adams as your wingers would drag down anybodies stats, fancy or otherwise, so the fact that he's even close to breaking even in shot attempts is pretty impressive.
Goc has pretty much been the only thing keeping the Pens fourth line afloat this year, and, judging by his increase in ice time compared to his two line-mates, Johnston has realized that he's got a player who he can use in more situations than your typical fourth-line plug.
In a year when so much has already been made about taking pressure off of the top-six, a player like Goc becomes invaluable. A fourth-line forward with the ability to play in increased situations, Pittsburgh has lacked a Marcel Goc-type forward for far too long.
Mercifully for him, the return of Beau Bennett to the lineup this week likely means either Blake Comeau, Nick Spaling, or Steve Downie being demoted to the fourth line, giving Goc at least one serviceable winger to work with.