It took Teddy Blueger a few years to become a regular NHL forward, and now that he has arrived he has quickly become the ideal depth forward for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He scored a huge goal on Sunday afternoon as part of that big come-from-behind win against the Boston Bruins, taking an incredible pass from Sidney Crosby and beating Jaroslav Halak just after he came out of the penalty box. It is his seventh goal of the season and puts him on a pace for a very respectable 10-goal, 30-point season from a bottom-six forward spot.
It is not the offense or the goal-scoring that makes Blueger such an impactful player.
It is his defense.
As a member of the PHWA I get an awards vote, and when we were filing our mid-season award votes this week I dug into some performances for the Selke Trophy and one name kept standing out for me across the board.
He ended up third on my ballot (behind Ryan O’Reilly and Anthony Cirelli).
Defense is still a tricky thing to evaluate in hockey — and especially for forwards — but Blueger always seems to pass the eye test, whether it be making a play to disrupt a pass, block a shot, or just always being in the right position. His line, alongside Brandon Tanev and Zach Aston-Reese, has become the Penguins’ shutdown line and the one that line that coach Mike Sullivan has not really messed with. For good reason. All three of them are outstanding defensive players, and they are even chipping in a little offense. It would be a very good third line at this point. If it is your fourth line you have a Stanley Cup caliber team.
For now, let us dig into some numbers for Blueger and his performance. We start with his 5-on-5 impact and his league-wide rankings among the 240 forwards that have played at least 500 minutes this season.
- Total shot attempts against/60 Minutes: 47.7 (7th)
- Goals against/60 minutes: 1.66 (11th)
- Expected goals against/60 minutes: 1.75 (4th)
- Scoring chances against/60 minutes: 19.9 (4th)
- High-danger scoring chances against/60 minutes: 7.46 (4th)
His linemates, Tanev and Aston-Reese rank right there with him in a lot of these categories, which is probably to be expected given how much ice-time they have spent alongside each other. So it is kind of difficult to separate the performance from each. What does separate Blueger for me is that he is not only a significant part of what is arguably the best defensive line in hockey at 5-on-5 is his performance while shorthanded.
Rankings among the 56 forwards with at least 90 minutes of shorthanded ice-time.
- Total shot attempts against/60 minutes: 80.7 (3rd)
- shots on goal against/60 minutes: 48.0 (7th)
- Goals against/60 minutes: 6.33 (14th)
- Expected goals against/60 minutes: 5.46 (3rd)
- Scoring chances against/60 minutes: 37.4 (1st)
- High-danger scoring chances against/60 minutes: 12.67 (1st)
He has also contributed to a pair of shorthanded goals.
Across the board, even-strength and shorthanded, he scores as one of the absolute best defensive forwards in hockey.
His development has been a huge addition to the Penguins’ lineup and his line is one of the biggest factors in the team’s overall improvement defensively, which has also been a huge part of the team’s improvement overall.
Looking back on it now the 2012 draft class that he was a part of turned out to be a pretty big one for the Penguins. Their first five picks that year were Derick Pouliot, Olli Maatta, Blueger, Oskar Sundqvist, and Matt Murray. Obviously the Pouliot pick did not work, and they kind mishandled the Sundqvist situation, but they produced four pretty solid NHL players with that class, then followed it up the next year (without a first-round pick) by using their first two selections on Tristan Jarry and Jake Guentzel. Pretty good two-year run there for Ray Shero and his scouting staff.