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The Penguins may have found themselves a third line

The Derick Brassard-Bryan Rust-Dominik Simon line has looked incredible so far.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A little more than a week ago I wrote about the Penguins needing to rediscover the championship depth they had a couple of years ago because for as great as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are at the top of the lineup, it can’t all be about them. Too many times last season (and especially early in the season before the Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan trades), it was all about them.

Even though I hate to be one of those irrational maniacs jumping to wild conclusions after one game or just one week into the season, allow me to jump to a (maybe-not-so-wild) conclusion after just one game and say that it looks like the Penguins may have found a third-line to perfectly complement their powerhouse top-six in the Brassard-Bryan Rust-Dominik Simon trio

Through the preseason and Thursday night’s season opener Brassard looks like a totally different player than he was shortly after the trade and throughout last year’s playoffs, and seems to be exactly what the Penguins were hoping to get when they gave up a boatload of assets to the Ottawa Senators and Vegas Golden Knights to get him. He also seems to have found a couple of linemates Rust and Simon that he has instantly connected with.

The early results are more than promising. Yes, it’s only a handful of games with most of these minutes coming in the preseason against players that may or may not even be in the NHL at this moment, but that line was downright dominant against Washington on Thursday night.

Some numbers...

The Derick Brassard-Bryan Rust-Dominik Simon Line

Games Time On Ice CF CA CA% GF GA SCF SCA
Games Time On Ice CF CA CA% GF GA SCF SCA
Pre-season 32.22 42 18 70.0 1 0 21 7
Regular season 7.34 14 3 82.3 1 1 8 2
Total 39.56 56 21 72.7 2 1 29 9
They Have Been Dominant So Far

Small sample sizes that they are, those shot attempt and scoring chance numbers are just comically good.

In Thursday’s wild 7-6 win over the Capitals this line was tremendous, starting with an extended shift in the second period that started to send the game back in the Penguins’ favor after it had gotten away from them. Later in the period they connected for a go-ahead goal when Brassard backhanded a rebound behind Braden Holtby to give the Penguins a 5-4 lead not long after Jake Guentzel tied it with his second goal of the game.

Let’s break this group down individually.

Brassard is, for all intents and purposes, a second-line NHL center. That is what he would be on most teams around the league. Having a player like him as your third-line center, and when he is playing at his maximum potential, is what can turn a good team into a great team, and a great team into a championship team. Pittsburgh did not see him at his best in the two months he was here a year ago. There is really not much else to say about him. He’s good. He’s really good. And his presence can be a game-changer.

Rust is one of the Penguins’ most underappreciated players and I had no problem with the money the team gave him over the summer. You always hear hockey people talk about “glue guys” and it is usually in reference to some fourth-line plug that doesn’t really do anything but is “good in the room” or some other intangible thing. When I think of a glue player, the kind of player that can hold a team together, I think of a player like Rust. And it’s not because of intangibles. It’s because of what he can do and the versatility he provides. The Penguins coaching staff loves Rust because they can literally play him in any situation and he is never going to be out of place. If they need him on the top line, he can play it. If they need him on the bottom-six. He can do it. Penalty kill? He is there. There is a ton of value in that type of player, especially when they are capable of potting 15 or 20 goals in a season (and I think Rust is capable of that).

Then there is Simon. The Penguins seem to be extremely high on him, but he was also kind of a source of frustration a bit toward the end of last season because he kept getting looks at the top of the lineup. Even though he always seemed to have some good opportunities to score, he never really came through. The thing about Simon is the Penguins may have every reason to be high on him and think he is an NHL player. But at this point he just seems to be out of place and out of his league playing on the top-six next to, say, Sidney Crosby. But on the third line? He might have found a home there for now.

I can not beat this drum enough, but having three (and preferably four) lines that can impact a game in a meaningful way is the key. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin make them contenders, but having a dominant third-line is what has made the Penguins a championship team over the past decade, whether it was centered by Jordan Staal or Nick Bonino playing alongside Phil Kessel, that is the key to a deep and successful postseason run. It is too soon to say whether or not this line will be able to maintain this success and be that sort of a difference-maker, but they are certainly off to a promising start.