The NHL season is already one month old and the Penguins have already played 11 games. This seems impossible because the season just started and WHY IS TIME GOING SO FAST?!
Anyway, every month I will take a bigger picture look at the Penguins trending players update and try to do something of a monthly progress report. This is the first such progress report where we look at the players that are exceeding our expectations, the players doing what we should have expected, and the players that we probably need to see more from.
Who is exceeding expectations (Trending up)?
Jamie Oleksiak — He has been, in my view, the biggest surprise of the season. I have become a little skeptical of the “Sergei Gonchar and the Penguins can fix anybody” mantra that has been beaten into our heads over the past year, but Oleksiak really does look like a different player in Pittsburgh than he was in Dallas, and especially so far this season. And it is not just the fact he’s scoring more goals or producing points. He is aggressive offensively, he isn’t really doing anything to hurt things defensively. All of that has also resulted in a bigger role and increased ice time over the past week. I don’t think he’s ever going to be anything more than a 4-5-6 defender on a good team, and right now he’s playing like a solid second-pairing player. At the start of the year I had him pegged as a third-pairing or seventh defender. So ... expectations exceeded.
Brian Dumoulin — It probably helps that he is playing next to Kris Letang, who is back to playing at an elite level, but Dumoulin has been a huge part of that pairing as well. These two guys are carrying the defense and I thought Dumoulin had an especially good overtime period against the Islanders, making a couple of great plays with his stick to disrupt some potential scoring chances. He is never going to wow you with his offense, but he is a rock solid player. Who would have ever thought seven years ago the he would end up being the player that made the Jordan Staal trade?
Dominik Simon — He is only one goal shy of matching his season total from a year ago and only four points from matching his point total. And he is only played 11 games. There is definitely a Sidney Crosby impact when it comes to his underlying possession numbers, but Crosby has also only had a hand in two of his eight points so far this season. Jury is still out on him for sure, but eight points in 11 games is probably more than most of us had him pegged for at the start of the year.
Who is doing what we expected
All of the top players — In other words, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang, and Patric Hornqvist. The Penguins need these players to carry the team and do the heavy lifting. They are. Malkin, Crosby, Kessel, and Letang have been outstanding, Guentzel and Hornqvist are doing their thing in complementary roles. There is nothing else to be said when it comes to their performance. We expect them to score; they are.
Jack Johnson — Not to keep pummeling this horse into the ground, but whatever you expected from Jack Johnson at the start of the year, you are getting it. If you think he is a misunderstood player whose numbers don’t paint an accurate picture of him, you can use some still frames and screen shots to try and prove it. If you think he is a bad defender and that it is not a coincidence that he is always on the ice for goals against, you are getting that, too, and there is plenty of objective evidence to support it. After 12 years there are no secrets anymore; you are what your track record says you are. Jack Johnson is what his track record says it is.
Matt Cullen — Nobody should have expected the return of the 2015-16 or 2016-17 Matt Cullen because, my goodness folks he is 42 years old and father time never loses. Still, he has not been bad. He has not been great. He is been acceptable in a fourth line role.
Who do we need to see more from (trending down)?
Bryan Rust — The Penguins love Rust because he can do so many different things, play so many different roles, and fit anywhere in the lineup as needed. That is why they gave him such a big contract over the summer, and I support that decision. So far this season he has not yet been that player. Yet being the key word. He’s only recorded a point in two of his first 11 games and he’s had one or zero shots on goal in eight of his first 11. He is never going to be a big point-producer, but they still need more than this, not only because of what they are paying him, but because of how important that depth is to the success of the team.
Carl Hagelin — I almost thought about putting Hagelin in the “doing what we expected” category because in a way, he kind of is. We know Hagelin is going to fly around the ice, create some chances that he can’t quite convert on, play a sound defensive game, and then after the calendar switches to a new year start collecting points in bunches leading up to the playoffs. But so far this season he really hasn’t even done much of that yet, and he’s also a sub-50% possession player, something that has never happened for him over any full season.
Derick Brassard — I still want to believe this trade is going to work for the Penguins because Brassard is a good enough player and the mindset behind it was totally reasonable. But it still just ... isn’t working yet. I know he’s hurt right now, but when he has been on the ice the impact just has not been there outside of the first part of the preseason and regular season when he was centering a new and productive third line. I don’t like the top-line experiment they have been going through with him and, well, I just expected more from all of this.
Matt Murray — He has had moments (like the Western Canadian road trip) where he looked like he was getting back on track and returning to his Stanley Cup form. He has had moments where he has looked more like the goalie we saw a year ago. He has had moments where he has had no chance because the defense in front of him does not seem to care about playing defense (like that game against the Islanders on Tuesday). No matter what, though, an .897 save percentage is not going to be enough.