Now that the Pittsburgh Penguins are officially into the second half of the 2019-20 season, we want to take a look back at the best, worst, and most surprising performances and players from the first half of the season.
Overall, the Penguins have exceeded not only most of their preseason expectations so far, but especially when you consider the fact they lead the league in man-games lost due to injury. It is a testament to the team general manager Jim Rutherford and the front office has built, and the job Mike Sullivan has done as head coach.
Now, on to the individual performances.
Best player in first half: Jake Guentzel
When they have been healthy a strong argument can be made for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But both have missed a significant portion of the season. The one constant for them has been Guentzel — right up until he went out of the lineup, too. If nothing else, we received some pretty strong confirmation that his 2018-19 season was no fluke and that the Penguins are going to have one of the biggest steals in the league against the salary cap.
Most valuable player: Tristan Jarry
This one kind of came out of nowhere. After a solid if unspectacular start to his NHL career, the biggest factor in Jarry making the opening night roster was the salary cap ramifications of keeping him over Casey DeSmith. Well, it all worked out. With Matt Murray struggling through a tough November and December, Jarry has solidified the goaltending position in a big way and has not only made an argument to take over the starting job, he has been one of the best performing goalies in the NHL. Given the injury situation it is not a stretch to say he has been the biggest driving factor in their recent success.
Most surprising player: Brandon Tanev
This is probably a surprise based on your preseason expectations. There were quite a few people that liked the signing and could put aside the term and look at his addition for what it is. Others hated it entirely. Some liked the player but hated the term. Whatever your thoughts, I am not sure anyone expected him to be quite as good as he has been. He is one of the many new faces that have helped bring speed back to the lineup and turned out to be everything they needed in a depth player.
Best offseason addition: John Marino
You could also make an argument for him being the most surprising player. While Tanev has been a great add as a depth forward, Marino has been everything the Penguins needed in a young defenseman. Fast, skilled, young, cheap, and most importantly, really good. The Penguins stole him from the Edmonton Oilers for a sixth-round draft pick and he has not only proven to be an NHL player with a bright future ahead of him, he has helped transform the defense and been one of their best overall players. The departures of Olli Maatta and Erik Gudbranson and the additions of Marino and a full season of Marcus Pettersson have added the mobility to the blue line the Penguins had been lacking and desperately needed.
Most disappointing player: Matt Murray
This is a big year for Murray because it could determine his long-term future with the team. That is no exaggeration, either. He and Jarry are both restricted free agents this summer, and the Penguins are going to have to decide on who to commit to long-term. The fact the Penguins have not seemed to be in any real hurry to get Murray signed has always been a bit of a red flag, almost as if they are still unsure on what to do with him. He needed a big year to prove he is the guy long-term. It has not happened. It was around this time a year ago that he went on a roll, but right now he is not getting the starts to make that happen. With the way Jarry is playing, that is probably the way it should be at the moment.
Most disappointing addition: Alex Galchenyuk
This just has not worked. At the very least I think there was some hope he could slide into the lineup and at least reasonably replace some of Phi Kessel’s production offensively, and especially on the power play, but it just has not worked out. The production is not there, nothing else is there, and even with the team going through a ton of injuries he is still mostly being relegated to fourth-line duty and limited minutes. If he does not get traded before February it will be a surprise.
Performance everyone is talking about: Bryan Rust
Just because he needed to be mentioned. He missed the first part of the season due to injury but once he made his season debut he started scoring goals and producing points and has not stopped. If you wanted, you could make an argument for him to be best player and most valuable player and most surprising player. Whatever you want to call him, he has simply been incredible.