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Conor Sheary and reasonable expectations for offensive production

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He absolutely scores enough to play on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ top line.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The most surprising thing about the trade deadline for the Pittsburgh Penguins from my end was the decision to trade Dominik Kahun, I liked Kahun. I thought he had come on strong after a slow start, was exactly the type of young forward they needed, and figured he had a chance to be a long-term fit.

My immediate reaction was, quite simply, I did not see that happening.

That does not mean I hate the trade or do not like it.

On a lot of levels, I get it.

The Penguins wanted to get deeper and the additions of Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues (along with Patrick Marleau) absolutely do that. They go from being a three-line team to five-line team almost immediately. There was also the very real possibility that the salary cap and internal player raises (along with any potential outside acquisitions to fill needs) would have resulted in a Kahun trade this summer anyway. So why not try to add some extra depth now to a potential Stanley Cup contender?

There is also the fact that Sheary is still, very quietly, a really good player.

He also serves as a good reminder as to what your typical NHL forward actually produces.

I mentioned on Twitter on Monday night that having the opportunity to watch Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin for the past 30 years (plus) has obscured the average Pittsburgh hockey fans idea of what top-six and top-nine NHL forwards actually produce over a full season. That was a general response to some (admittedly very small) questioning of the Sheary re-acquisition because he doesn’t really produce a lot, or produce a lot without Crosby. But he has a pretty established track record of being at least a 15-goal player over 82 games. He scored at that pace a year ago in Buffalo and is not that far off that pace this season (14 goal pace at the moment).

That may not seem like a lot, especially for a top-line forward that is immediately going to play next to the best player in the world on the top-line of a Stanley Cup contender.

But here’s the thing: It is a perfectly fine number.

Hockey fans in general (and I feel like I am definitely generalizing here, so you don’t need to tell me that) over-estimate what individual player production should look like. It is almost as if there is a set number of goals that needs to be required for a top-line player, or a second-line player, or a third-line player.

Since the start of the 2018-19 season there have been 350 forwards that have played at least 82 games in the NHL. Close to 40 percent of those players scored at a 14-20 goal pace over 82 games. Included in that group are first-liners, fourth-liners, and everything in between. Only 25 percent of those players averaged more than 25 goals. Only 12 percent have averaged more than a 30-goal pace.

Here is another admittedly anecdotal exercise for you: Go back over the past few Stanley Cup winners and look at how many players on those teams actually scored more than 20-25 goals during that season. The Blues had three players score more than 20 goals. The Capitals also had three players. The Penguins two most recent Stanley Cup teams each had five and four 20-goal scorers respectively, but only three topped 25 goals. The 2014-15 Blackhawks had four 20-goal players, and only two topped 25 goals.

We could go on like this.

This is why I am okay with Sheary returning and immediately playing next to Crosby and Jason Zucker. It is why I am okay with Dominik Simon playing on that line. Even though league-wide goal scoring has increased the past few years, it is still not a particularly high scoring league and there are only so many goals to go around for every player on the roster. Not every team is going to have Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen-Gabriel Landeskog or David Pastrnak-Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand line where all three players put huge numbers on the board. Not every team is going to be like Tampa Bay where six or seven players score 20 goals.

Solid depth is the key. The Penguins now have plenty of it.