Dominik Kahun and Alex Galchenyuk were two of the most significant additions to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup over the summer, and from the moment they arrived there seemed to be two very different sets of expectations for them.
Galchenyuk arrived by way of the Phil Kessel trade to Arizona, and there seemed to be reasonably high hopes that he could slide into Kessel’s spot in the lineup and replace most — if not all — of the production that was going out the door. The reviews in training camp about the Evgeni Malkin-Galchenyuk duo were extraordinarily high. They looked great in their limited preseason action. There was a strong belief that putting Galchenyuk into a situation where he was playing with a highly skilled center for the first time in his career would result in a huge boost to his production (I did not buy that!).
Kahun on the other hand was more of an unknown. On the surface he checked a lot of the boxes that the Penguins should have been looking for in a forward. He is young, he is fast, he is cheap against the salary cap, he had shown signs of being a productive player in his first NHL season, and he still had some potential to get better. Still, no one really knew what to expect from him because his track record was so small. He also had a miserable start to the season after being non-existent in training camp and the preseason, and then being equally invisible through his first seven or eight games of the regular season.
In the first week or two of the season, if you had to make a kneejerk reaction on which player would get unceremoniously traded by mid-season in a “admit the mistake” deal it probably would have been Kahun.
That is no longer the case as both players are steaming ahead on two very different paths.
Let’s start with the good news that is Kahun’s development.
Whether it was just an adjustment period to a new city, a new team, and a new system, or just a tough stretch to open the season, he has looked like a different player over the past 20 games and has not only been exactly what the Penguins needed, he has probably been better than even they expected. It is not a stretch to argue that he has been one of their best all-around forwards over the past few weeks. His defensive contributions are huge, he has helped the team regain its identity as a fast team, and the production is starting to come around (15 points in his past 18 games after starting the season with two points in 12 games).
We should not expect him to maintain this recent level of production the rest of the season, but he does not need to, either. When the Penguins were winning Stanley Cups they had a team full of Dominik Kahun’s starting to make their presence felt in the NHL — fast, defensively sound, complementary players that could provide enough offense to be a constant threat and help the team roll four scoring lines. With the additions of Kahun and Jared McCann, as well as the recent emergence of players like Teddy Blueger and Sam Lafferty, they are starting to get that element back to their roster. Right now they are doing what they can to help carry the Penguins while they get through their injury situation. Once they start getting their top players back (specifically Sidney Crosby) and they can start settling into their complementary roles it is going to be one heck of a balanced lineup.
While Kahun is becoming the player the Penguins need, Galchenyuk’s season is quickly turning into one of the biggest disappointments on the team.
It is certainly not for a lack of effort. He is putting in the work, I think he plays hard, and he has the talent, but things are just simply not clicking here. The first part of his season was impacted by an injury (and maybe a spider bite? Who knows) that sidelined him for a few weeks, but he has not even come close to being an impact player upon his return. Even worse, his future with the team seems to be in question. His current ice-time (even with all of the injuries up front) paints the picture of a player that is in the coach’s doghouse, while general manager Jim Rutherford already said this past week that when everyone returns Galchenyuk is not guaranteed to remain in the lineup. Not a good sign, especially for a player that is an unrestricted free agent after this season.
With the developments of Kahun and John Marino, as well as the surprisingly strong contributions from Brandon Tanev, Rutherford had his best offseason in three years and helped get the Penguins back in a championship direction.
The only mis-step appears to be the Galchenyuk acquisition, and at this point it seems to be a matter of when, and not if, some sort of move is made there.