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Grading each Pittsburgh Penguin player through the half-way point

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The all-star break marks the unofficial first half of the season. We break down each player’s individual contributions

Minnesota Wild v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

The Penguins have now played 50 out of the 82 games in the 2019-20 season, but the all-star break is traditionally considered the unofficial “first half” of the NHL season. With that natural point that breaks makes for an easy chance to reflect on what has gone done. Today, let’s take a chance to look at each individual’s contributions.

Clearly the major and unavoidable storyline is the massive injuries that the players on the team have endured. For this exercise we will divorce thinking about injuries as much as possible and just look at how the player has done when they’ve played. Clearly players who have played about half the season have an element of an incomplete feeling to their season, but overall we’re just going to worry about how they’ve played for when they’ve been able to play, rather than just hand out a ton of incompletes and call it a day. Grades are relative to a blend of to role, expectation as well as performance.

Zach Aston-Reese: Third on the team in hits (118), has been a key defensive member of a great checking/buzzsaw line. Only 11 points (5G+6a) has seemed to have some hard luck not scoring on quality chances, but overall has been dynamite shutting down the opposition. B+

Nick Bjugstad: Has only played ten games, due to two different injuries but has accomplished very little in the little he’s played (1G+0A). A good second half will erase a nothing first half pretty quickly, but there’s no doubt that’s what it’s been so far, perhaps with the obvious disclaimer that some of it has been outside of his control. F

Joseph Blandisi: He’s been needed for 21 NHL games (2G+3A). Has tried to add as much as he can, but he’s been just replacement level energy/grit player that doesn’t contribute a ton and has been one of the few players outscored at 5v5, his fault or not (7 GF, 10 GA). D

Teddy Blueger: A big reason despite several injuries to centers at times (Crosby, Malkin, Bjugstad) that the team hasn’t missed a beat. Blueger has been low-key one of the best defensive centers in the entire league, and the team is leaning on him more for key faceoffs, defensive draws and more. Plus he’s kicking in enough offense (7G+10A) to indicate a ceiling higher than fourth line forward. A-

Sidney Crosby: Dealt with a nagging groin injury for most of the early part of the season before it went out for good on him. Has been looking like Sidney Crosby while he’s played, which means the best and most creative player on the ice. Probably still can round into form even more, too. A-

Brian Dumoulin: No one on the team has a better Corsi For% than Dumoulin at 57.44%. His Goals For% of 60.0% leads all defensemen. When in the lineup, Dumoulin’s been the typical and normal bedrock staple of being a first-pair defenseman who helps tip the ice dramatically in the Pens’ favor while he’s been on the ice. A

Alex Galchenyuk: Remember the preseason prognostications? 20 goals seemed to be the floor. Maybe 25 or even a return to another 30 goal season in some quarters. It hasn’t happened (5G+11A, just three 5v5 goals) and he’s had a difficult time finding a role or niche on the team. D-

Jake Guentzel: His absence still feels almost too visceral and unfortunate to discuss. Was on his way towards another 40 goal season (20G+23A in 39 games) and a brand new career-high in points. That won’t be, but it doesn’t take away from how wonderful Guentzel played up until the end of December. A

Patric Hornqvist: It’s been a weird and uneven season for Hornqvist. Perhaps the best thing you can say for him is that he would be on a 27 goal pace over the course of a full season if healthy (11G in 33 games). But he’s had some stops and starts due to injury. And he only has one 5v5 first assist in 441 minutes so far this season, he hasn’t been very good at dishing the puck. Only two power play goals as well, though his presence and energy has seemed to help. C-

Jack Johnson: Certainly one of the pleasant surprises of the season, Johnson has stabilized after one of the worst seasons of his career to one of the better ones this year in terms of helping his teams suppress shots and goals against. He’s had some moments in the other direction, but luckily it’s been a more smooth second season in Pittsburgh. B+

Dominik Kahun: A great debut season as a secondary scoring threat (10G+17A in 48 games) and has helped the team with an element of speed and skill that has been missing in previous years from the middle lines. B+

Sam Lafferty: After scoring five points in his third and fourth game, Lafferty only has five total points in the last 32 games he’s played. Big time slow down there. Adds some speed and energy and hustle, but his star has faded as the season has gone on. C+

Kris Letang: Despite somehow being a polarizing player but the more um, let’s say simple hockey minds, Letang continues to be a major engine that pushes the Pens and major positive contributor to their success, ranking top-10 in points/game in the league among defensemen, and 4th in the league playing 25:43 per game. B+

Evgeni Malkin: Malkin has a 61.26% xGF%, tops in the entire league. Leads the team in points (15G+35A in 37 games) and looks like his a lot more like “old” self (like, MVP days) and not like an old guy, which at 33 he is. Other than a fluky injury, it couldn’t be much better of a bounce-back year for Malkin. A

John Marino: There can’t be enough compliments for a rookie to naturally grow and succeed at the NHL level. Marino has steadily taken his role to new levels, and looked comfortable for each and every step of the way. Marino is second among defensemen on the team in all offensive categories (4G+19A, 48 games) and is over 20 minutes a game on average for the season. A+

Jared McCann: On the way to career-highs in goals and points after a solid first half (14G+14A) the 23-year old former first round pick is finally living up to expectations to be a solid NHL player and contributor. Prone to a bit of streakniess (1 goal in 17 games from late November to early January, followed by four goals in five games after that). But overall pretty good. B+

Marcus Pettersson: It feels like Pettersson’s perception might be a bit under his actual performance. He’s only at 2.34 GA/60 which is in line with the other defensemen on the team. He’s slowly grown from a 17 minute player to an 18 minute player to now 19 minutes per game, a nice, gradual ascension into a middle lineup defender. B

Juuso Riikola: Riikola has some solid underlying numbers this season (CF% of 52%, xGF of 57%, only been on ice for eight 5v5 GA), being used in a sheltered 13:58 TOI role for the Pens in 28 games of depth being pressed into action. He’s done well with what the coaches have put on his plate, but perhaps wisely (and tellingly) it’s not been a big ask of him. B+

Chad Ruhwedel: In many ways similar to Riikola in terms of a depth player in a limited role of 14 minutes per game. His advanced numbers aren’t as pretty (48% CF, and the only defender with a sub-50% xGF, though it’s close at 49.1%). He’s a perfect seventh defender that’s serviceable, but not much more. C+

Bryan Rust: There’s a case to be made that Rust is the team’s MVP, or at the very least in the conversation for it. His TOI has skyrocketed to over 20 minutes and he has rewarded that and fed off it by being super-productive. He leads the team in goals (21 in just 36 games) and has 43 points as well. He’s already nearing or set personal season-bests in a short period of time. A+

Justin Schultz: Schultz’s uneven career has hit bumps with injuries. Surprisingly he hasn’t generated many points when he has played (2G+6A in 27 games) and is currently has the worst scoring chances% on the team among defensemen with 48.7% (minimum 250 minutes). Still has time to turn it around, but this can’t be the contract year launching pad into free agency that he was hoping for. D+

Dominik Simon: It’s been a season in-line with the past, Simon’s played every game and flashes for points occasionally (6G+14A) but isn’t lighting the lamp often. He helps a lot in possession based stats — his 54.3% Corsi% in fourth best among forwards behind only stars Crosby, Guentzel and Malkin. C+

Brandon Tanev: The lightning rod signing has been a smash success in his first year in Pittsburgh, literally. His 186 hits easily lead the team. He’s drawn 13 penalties with his speed. He’s chipped in offense in line and better with what he did last year in Winnipeg (10G+12A) — boosted a bit by three empty net goals. He’s brought everything the Pens coveted and wanted. A-

Matt Murray: It’s been a rocky season for Murray with just a .900 save% in 27 games, losing his starting job, if not in name then certainly in usage. He’s strung together some wins to post a 15-6-4 record, at least, and his January stats (4-0-0, .929 save%) could be pointing towards another strong finish like last year. He, and the Pens, will need that improved play. D+

Tristan Jarry: For as disappointing as Murray has been, Jarry has stepped in to become the Pens’ season savior calendar 2019 by posting a 13-5-0 record with a .939 save% and 1.88 GAA to start the season. Not bad for a guy who partially made the team out of training camp due to a favorable contract and parlayed the opportunity all the way to the All Star Game. A