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Revisiting Dominik Simon: Just what is he?

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The coaches love him, the fans are frustrated by him, and everybody has an opinion!

NHL: New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Greetings, friends. Let’s take some time today to talk about one of the most polarizing players on the 2018-19 Pittsburgh Penguins roster, a player that seems to get a longer leash than other players in comparable situations and tends to leave you with equal levels of optimism and frustration. You know the player I’m talking about — it is Dominik Simon.

Earlier this season we looked at his potential long-term upside, and given that we are nearly through his first entire full season we should take another look at his progress.

I get the sense, just from reading Twitter and talking to my own friends, that the fanbase has pretty much had enough of Simon and is teetering more to the frustration side of the spectrum than the optimism side.

You see him get top-line minutes for a bulk of the season.

You see him in the lineup constantly and getting the leash the other young players like Daniel Sprong and Teddy Blueger did not get (or in Blueger’s case, are not getting).

You see him get opportunities with the puck and then watch as they, more often than not, fizzle out into nothing tangible that shows up on the scoreboard.

You probably see all of that and start screaming WHY?!

Well, here was Mike Sullivan trying to explain some of the way this past week.

“When you look at him for most of the year he’s been a half point per game guy, which is pretty respectable. Lately, to Dominik’s defense, I haven’t necessarily put him in a position to post numbers. That doesn’t mean he can’t be an effective player for us and help us win games. He does a lot of the little things out there that help lines to be successful. For example, he’s pretty good along the wall, he can hold on to pucks in the offensive zone. He just hit the post in Columbus. With some of the limited opportunity he was given in Columbus, he still had an impact. He’s a good offensive player, he’s got good offensive instincts, he’s a good two-way player, I think he gets under appreciated in that regard. There’s a lot of subtleties to Dom’s game that help the line’s on to be effective. When you look at his overall production for the first forty-five games, he was a half a point per game. If he does that throughout the course of the regular season, he is going to help us win hockey games.”

Or, to shorten that down to just a few words: Mike Sullivan trusts Dominik Simon. A lot.

He trusts him more than he ever trusted Sprong, he obviously trusts him more than he currently trusts Blueger, and one of the driving forces behind that trust seems to be around a couple of key words mixed in there.

“Two-way.”

“Subtleties.”

“Instincts.”

A lot of times when we hear a coach talk about “little things” and subtlety there is not always objective evidence to back it up. We just have to take their word for it because they are the hockey person and we are just the simpletons on the outside looking in that can never grasp the complexity of what is happening on the ice (and hey, let’s be honest, sometimes that is true). But there is a lot of that objective evidence to back up a lot of what Sullivan is saying.

Simon’s underlying numbers are strong across the board.

His possession and scoring chance numbers are pretty outstanding, and when it comes to suppressing shot attempts by the opponents his on-ice numbers are quite literally the best on the team (excluding J-S Dea and Erik Gudbranson, both of whom have played fewer than three games on the team so far).

Some of that is obviously due to spending quite a bit of time alongside Sidney Crosby, and I get that. But here is something that does not get enough attention: He has spent twice as much time this season away from Crosby than he has with him. If you strip away the minutes with Crosby he still comes out on the positive side of the shot attempt and scoring chance differentials, and his shot suppression numbers are not all that different than his overall numbers for the season.

When you watch him play on game nights you see the “sneaky little plays” that get the coaching staff excited. He is a good playmaker. He does put himself in good spots in the offensive zone. He can create some chances.

He just never finishes them, and you don’t have to look any further than the fact that he has appeared in 100 NHL games, including playoffs, and only scored 11 total goals.

That is where the frustration is.

But you know what? Maybe that is okay. Not everybody in the NHL is going to score 30 goals. There is room for a middle-six or bottom-six player in the league that can do a lot of things well while still not being a great finisher.

With Bryan Rust injured Simon could end up being an important player down the stretch for the Penguins.

He is not going to score a lot — he may never score a lot — and that is going to frustrate fans because that is what we look for, but it is very clear the Penguins love what he brings and are going to be giving him plenty of opportunities.