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Looking at Dominik Kahun’s long-term upside

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What sort of player is he capable of becoming for the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Detroit Red Wings v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

While most of the offseason discussion surrounding the Pittsburgh Penguins has focussed on the departure of Phil Kessel and another bonkers free agent contract for a depth player, there is another new player in town that could play a fairly significant role that has kind of been forgotten about.

So let’s talk about Dominik Kahun for a little bit because ... eh ... why the hell not?

He is an intriguing player because he theoretically checks a lot of the boxes the Penguins should have been looking for in a forward this summer. He is a younger player, he is still dirt cheap against the salary cap, and he had a fairly promising debut season with the Chicago Blackhawks that should at least offer the hope of some real long-term potential. These are all things the Penguins needed!

For whatever flaws Olli Maatta had as a player, his absence will still be felt on the blue line. Not only because he played a lot of minutes over the years, but because his departure likely means more of ole Double J in the lineup. But if you are going to trade Maatta and set yourself up for all of that on the back end because you are looking to improve the forwards, this is a pretty fair return.

They just need really need Kahun to contribute to help make up for what they are losing on defense, and to also help balance out a forward group that had become way too top-heavy over the past two seasons.

That leads us to the questions.

Questions like ... How much should the Penguins be expecting from Kahun? And just how much potential does he actually have for this season and beyond?

While he is a younger player and has just one year of NHL experience, I would not exactly qualify him as a young NHL player. At 24, he is beyond the point of being a prospect and should be at an age where he is just now entering his prime years and peak performance. How good is that prime going to be?

He is still cheap for this season, but is going to be a restricted free agent after the season and another player in line for a new contract. While his production last year it was fine, it awfully close to what another polarizing player on the Penguins named Dominik is capable of producing over 82 games.

I went back to the start of the 2000 NHL season and looked for rookies that fit a similar statistical profile to Kahun to try and get some sort of an idea as to what his ceiling might be. Obviously this isn’t an entirely perfect methodology, but I think comparable players at least give us some kind of a baseline for what to expect. If you’re not producing at a certain level by a certain age in the NHL there is a pretty good chance you will never produce. If you are producing at a young age, it is a good bet you will continue to produce and probably even improve on it.

So here is what I looked for: Forwards that made their NHL debut age 23 or older and averaged between 0.10 and 0.20 goals per game (Kahun averaged 0.16) and between 0.40 and 0.50 points per game (Kahun averaged 0.45).

Here is the list of players that produced:

Dominik Kahun
Erik Cole
David Vyborny
Josh Jooris
Pavel Datsyuk
Joonas Donskoi
Scott Parse
Brandon Bochenski
Alex Killorn
Brian Gibbons
Ronalds Kenins

So that is ... a list.

There are a few names that pretty much washed out of the NHL pretty quickly or never really became anything consistently useful.

The outlier name is obviously Datsyuk, but don’t think anyone has any delusions that Kahun is going to turn into him. Everyone knew watching Datsyuk in his rookie season that he was a freak talent and had a chance to be something special. He was just simply playing on one of the best teams of the modern era in an organization that brought its young players along at a snails pace (mostly because it had that luxury).

So I don’t think anyone will blame me if we conclude that his upside probably isn’t that.

The next most intriguing names on that list are Cole, Vyborny, Donskoi and Killorn.

Cole is a tough comparable because he is a different type of player from a completely different era. He was a 6-2, 210-pound power forward who entered the league in the clutch-and-grab era where the middle of the ice was a lawless society.

Vyborny is also a little differenet because he didn’t make his NHL debut until he was 26 (on an expansion Columbus Blue Jackets team) after being a superstar in the Czech league.(Kahun was a decent player in the German league before making his NHL debut at 23).

Vyborny would go on to be a steady 20-goal, 50-point player in the NHL. If the Penguins get that, they should consider themselves damn lucky.

The more realistic upside might be Donskoi and Killorn and, quite honestly, I think the Penguins would happily take that. I don’t know if Kahun has Donskoi’s all-around game defensively, and you don’t want to sign that for seven years like Tampa Bay did with Killorn, but there is still a lot to be said for a 15-goal, 30-point winger in your bottom six.

Now we wait to see if that is what he is capable of becoming.