Teddy Blueger, the Penguins’ 23-year-old forward prospect, joined Team Latvia for the 2018 IIHF Worlds looking to not only get more international hockey experience under his belt (this was his second showing in the IIHF Worlds tournament, as he joined Latvia in 2017), but also stand out as much as possible and prove how much he’s developed since signing his AHL deal with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Blueger had a stellar 2017-18 season with the Baby Pens, recording 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 70 games. This was good for third on the team in points, second in goals, and tied him for second in game-winning goals, for which he totaled five. Blueger also lead the AHL in most overtime goals (4). It came as no surprise to see his name called for the 2018 Latvian roster.
Speaking of the Latvians, they played in this year’s tourney with a sort of chip on their shoulders, and Blueger was a part of that. They went 2-2 to start the competition, with victories against Norway and Korea, but experienced tough losses to the Finns and the Americans. But even in those losses, the Latvians shown a strong fight to the finish, especially in the overtime battle against Patrick Kane and company — where Blueger managed a timely helper. They garnered a certain respect by the regularly-known powerhouse teams like the United States, Canada, and Sweden.
After beating the reigning Olympic silver medal-winning Germans, the Latvians took it to the star-studded Canadians, only to fall in overtime once again. Blueger recorded an assist in the loss. Then, after besting the tourney hosts Denmark with a brilliant performance, Latvia earned a spot in the playoffs with a quarterfinal date with the 2017 champion, and seemingly unstoppable, Swedes.
This is the game where Blueger truly shined.
After a broken stick gifted the Latvians with possession, Blueger sprung on his skates, received a breakout pass, and, on his own in the offensive zone, brilliantly rifled a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle past two Swedes and over the glove of Sweden’s net-minder.
Though Latvia would go on to concede to the explosive Swedish club 3-2 and get knocked out of the playoffs, it would be a mistake to not mention just how impressive this team was against the best-known clubs in the tournament. Blueger played in five total contests and put up three points — a goal and two assists. He was also a plus-one when on the ice. Here’s a reminder that three of those games were up against the best teams at Worlds, and the goal he scored tied up a hugely important quarterfinal tilt against the eventual back-to-back champions.
That’s great news for the Penguins, who are undoubtedly taking a close look at the centers it has to work with this offseason. Blueger’s name will surely have a lot of eyes on it come training camp at the end of summer, and I’d expect him to put up a great showing just like he did last year.