One of the biggest red flags about the Pittsburgh Penguins adding Patrick Marleau is a simple round number. 40. It’s Marleau’s age, making him the second oldest forward in the league behind now former teammate Joe Thornton. Marleau has played in an astounding 1,715 NHL games and if he comes back next season he quite possibly could break Gordie Howe’s all-time career record for total NHL games.
With that age and mileage comes a very real and fair question — how much does Marleau have left to offer the Pens? We asked the wonderful Fear the Fin contributor Sheng Peng this and others and his answers and scouting report make a great preview for Pens’ fans.
There are three things that 40-year-old Patrick Marleau still does better on the ice than most of the league: He skates faster, wins more puck battles, and deflects more pucks than most of his much-younger peers.
The #LetsGoPens give Patrick Marleau another shot at winning a Cup, acquiring him from the #SJSharks. Marleau isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas, winning a lot of puck battles in the O-zone and getting himself to the front of the net where he has a good stick for deflections. pic.twitter.com/xAaeajdeoy— The Point (@ThePointHockey) February 24, 2020
Still don’t believe me?
A common scouting cliche, when they’re talking about slower skaters, is “keeps up when he gets going.” That’s not Marleau. Not only can Marleau still fly at top speed, but he also owns just-as-important short quickness:
Not a lot of bright spots for #SJSharks this year, but Marleau has been one. This is what they mean by hunger for a loose puck, look at Marleau get in front of William Karlsson pic.twitter.com/wINW3oLMxV— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) December 23, 2019
This short quickness is a key to winning puck battles, as William Karlsson (71) learned here. Speaking of puck battles:
Marleau chases Siegenthaler, pretty backhand pass to Hertl pic.twitter.com/TZQ7Txlq0o— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) January 5, 2020
22-year-old Jonas Siegenthaler (34) doesn’t know what hit him — Marleau’s still-present speed and strength make him an effective forechecker.
Marleau’s effectiveness isn’t confined to just the offensive zone:
One-man backcheck from Marleau, Couture finishes pic.twitter.com/nOX13GafRP— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) January 3, 2020
Here, he takes the puck away from John Marino twice in the neutral zone.
Because of his age, Marleau's game will wax & wane, but he can still play: Takes the puck from Schmidt twice (with help from Gambrell), then finds Meier.— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) November 22, 2019
Just because he can't do things as well as he used to, doesn't mean he isn't useful pic.twitter.com/LsxBaT36rl
Once again, Marleau takes the puck away twice from a defenseman on the same shift, this time, Nate Schmidt (88), in both the offensive and defensive zone.
3 plays by Marleau that I liked on Burns's goal: On 50-50 faceoff puck, he beats Bear (74) to puck. Then in corner, rolls out & gets step on Gagner (89) in front. Finally, digs puck away from Russell (52) along wall pic.twitter.com/MjebA2CP9o— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) November 13, 2019
Marleau’s speed and strength is on full display here. This speed and strength also helps Marleau get to the front of the net, where his quick stick can be relied upon to deflect point shots.
Says what you want about Goodrow & Marleau on the 2nd line (not a sustainable winning formula), but they do a good job here of battling for position in front, creating traffic for point shots -- in short, of playing #SJSharks hockey.— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) November 24, 2019
Gotta love Patty's kick pass to Meier too pic.twitter.com/zGrWJzHj5J
Of course, Marleau’s game has warts. He can’t get to his scoring spots with the same consistency as before, while his shot doesn’t appear to possess quite as much zip. And at times, the 40-year-old’s age can still matter — his minutes must be managed, and these days, it’s more of a challenge for him to bring his A-game every night. But on the balance, he’s still a championship-caliber bottom-six winger who can help a second-unit power play.
He’s also, as you might expect, full of veteran savvy:
Why don't you play the kids more?— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) December 28, 2019
Fair question, but here's an example of a veteran play that most rookies wouldn't have the patience or awareness to pull off at NHL speed: Marleau holds puck, draws #GoKingsGo forechecker (Wagner) one way, makes space for Karlsson the other way pic.twitter.com/TpXm6L2npG
Meier, on how Marleau helps #SJSharks power play: "He does a lot of small things that help with scoring goals."— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) October 20, 2019
Look for subtle push by Marleau on Jokiharju here, helping Meier find soft spot to receive Thornton pass (HT @itwasthreezero): https://t.co/Leh22XvfJs
The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t spend a high draft pick on just a feel-good story and consummate professional. Along with Marleau’s aforementioned on-the-ice skills, these are the little plays that help you win now and in the post-season.
Thanks to Sheng for all that great video breakdown, it was wonderful to get to see some clips of Marleau playing hockey this year in some clips. One other thing I noticed about Marleau is he’s played left wing and right wing on any of the Sharks’ first, second or third lines at different points of the season. He pretty much doesn’t play center or take faceoffs any longer (only has 56 draws in 58 games this season) but he does look versatile enough for either wing. It’s not tough to imagine Marleau could get a brief look on the right side of Sidney Crosby. Or the left of Evgeni Malkin.
Marleau will probably settle in on a third line, perhaps with players like Jared McCann, Patric Hornqvist, Brandon Tanev or Teddy Blueger. A Marleau-Blueger-Tanev line sounds like a lot of fun in the short-term. Maybe a Marleau-McCann-Hornqvist line for the longer term? Also intriguing. Lots of options to move around the chess board for the Pens to look at.
Patrick Marleau isn’t a young player any more, but he certainly still is an NHL caliber forward that has some skills and abilities to help a contender down the stretch. It will be interesting to see how he fits and meshes with the Pens as he looks to make another run at the one shiny prize that has eluded him his whole career.