clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Looking at some potential Penguins’ playoff X-factors

New, comments

Somebody that is not one of the star players is going to need to make an impact if the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to make some kind of extended Stanley Cup Playoffs run.

NHL: Boston Bruins at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to beat the New York Islanders and make a run at another Stanley Cup we know they are going to need big-time performances from their big-time players. We know that includes Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Matt Murray, Jake Guentzel, Phil Kessel, etc. etc. etc.

They can not do it if those players do not produce. Maybe they will; maybe they won’t! The playoffs are two months of unpredictable madness that do not care about your regular season performance, your analytical models, or anything else.

If you have watched hockey for any length of time, you already know this.

You also probably know that winning the Stanley Cup is more than just your top-tier, star players. You need some luck. You need good health. You need the right matchups. You also need your depth, too, and if the past few years have shown us anything it is that Stanley Cup winning teams always have an under-the-radar player emerge to play a surprising role in the success.

During the 2015-16 season for the Penguins it was several players, from Conor Sheary, to Bryan Rust, to Nick Bonino, to then-rookie Matt Murray, to Trevor Daley.

During the 2016-17 season it was Jake Guentzel, Sheary again, Ian Cole, to a big Game 7 from whatever it was that Chris Kunitz had remaining in his career, to Ron Hainsey playing 20 minutes per night and scoring two goals.

During the 2017-18 season the Washington Capitals had Michal Kempny, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Brett Connolly all step forward with big performances.

Who could it be for the 2018-19 Pittsburgh Penguins? Here are five possibilities.

  1. Dominik SimonSimon is going to play for 12 years in the NHL, and in 11 of those years he will score 10 goals with 30 points, drive possession, play good defense, and make nifty little passes, always making fans want more from him. In one of the seasons during his career he is going to score 35 goals and make everybody look at him and ask, “where did that come from?” He is this generation’s Jan Hrdina. I could see Simon scoring a big goal or two in the playoffs, simply because at some point the puck has to go in the net for him. His line has been great, they should generate some chances, and I am just really starting to like his game. Dominik Simon is my sleeper pick for the playoffs. Maybe I am crazy.
  2. Jared McCann One thing that has stood out to me about McCann so far is the way he shoot the puck. It just comes off of his stick differently. In the game where the Penguins clinched their playoff spot he came down the middle of the ice and unleashed an absolute rocket of a snap shot from beyond the top of the faceoff circles that rang off the post to the left of Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard. It got on Howard so quickly, and beat him so cleanly, that he looked completely helpless. He has had several shots just like that since arriving with the Penguins. Given the way he plays shorthanded, the fact he is going to get ice-time alongside Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, the potential is there for him to steal the show. So far he has been everything for the Penguins that everyone wanted Daniel Sprong to be (keep in mind McCann is less than a year older that Sprong).
  3. Nick Bjugstad Every week he looks a little better and a little more comfortable. His line, alongside Simon, has been great and he has already scored a few big goals. If Mike Sullivan keeps the Simon-Bjugstad-Patric Hornqvist line together I could see them being a poor man’s, slower, slightly less dominant version of the HBK line. At least in the sense that they give the Penguins a great third line that other teams simply can not match up against while they try to slow down the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin lines at the top of the lineup. That trio dominates puck possession, it dominates scoring chances, it dominates high-danger scoring chances. Eventually that will lead to goals.
  4. Zach Aston-Reese Whenever he is healthy and ready he has to play. He would provide so much additional scoring punch on the fourth line than Garrett Wilson, and I was really starting to like the way he was playing until he got hurt. It would not be a shock to see him have a big goal or two in him.
  5. Jack JohnsonBecause playoff hockey is chaotic, stupid, and unpredictable. I do not for one second buy the narrative being pushed in the Tribune-Review on Tuesday about his great career playoff numbers, but you just know after a full season of sub-par play, intense criticism, and amidst all of the arguments he should be the odd-man out when everyone is healthy (as he should be) that he is going to score some massive goal or make some massive play at some point. It is a given. Can feel it in my bones.