With the 2019-20 regular season over, and we’re now in a period waiting for a “training camp” to begin, why not look back and hand out some yearbook style awards for the Penguins?
Fastest skater - Brandon Tanev
Hey, you gonna argue with Evgeni Malkin on this one? Malkin said Tanev is the fastest skater in the league. While that might be a bit of a stretch, it’s not much of one. Tanev has an excellent stride and a burst of acceleration that makes him a menace on the forecheck and a danger to break out. The contract is onerous, but the player was worth adding for his skill-set in year one.
Most likely to steal the show - Alex Letang
Alex Letang on playing in the NHL: "I would be #58 if my dad is not playing. If Crosby stops playing, I’ll be the number of Crosby. 87 or 58. I want more to be 58, but if my dad’s still playing, I’ll be 87."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 28, 2020
Vote for Alex in the 'Top Team Video' category: https://t.co/VKjIKygDH8 pic.twitter.com/VZRKLlCocN
The precocious son of Kris Letang did what he always does in front of a camera at the NHL All-Star game, and that’s ham it up. He made lots of friends, loves mascots and hockey. And he’s up for a league award, which dear old dad hasn’t even won yet (aside from, you know, all the Stanley Cups).
Kris Letang on how Alex feels about being nominated for the best team video in #NHLFanChoice: "He's laughing. He would like to win, obviously. He's sending all his friends little texts and videos to vote for him."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 28, 2020
You know what to do: https://t.co/VKjIKygDH8 pic.twitter.com/0Wl0QzmUYX
Most bang for the buck - John Marino
With a $950,000 cap hit, John Marino emerged on the scene in a big way putting up 26 points in 56 games this season in the NHL. A most pleasant surprise coming out of no where.
Most likely to have perfect attendance - Marcus Pettersson
Despite playing defense, throwing a few hits, blocking some shots and even getting into the odd fight or two, Marcus Pettersson has been a lineup staple for the Pens, playing 130 games total for the team since coming over in a December 2018 trade. For a team as banged up as the Pens seemingly always are, touch wood, Pettersson has been durable. Which is pretty crazy considering at 6’3 and 177 pounds he’s pretty much a beanpole out there.
Most likely to be score - Evgeni Malkin
Evgeni Malkin put a disastrous 2018-19 behind him and led the entire NHL with a 3.43 5v5 points/60 in 2019-20. And while Malkin did lead the Pens with a 2.9 5v5 P/60 (and 72 points in 69 games) in 2018-19, the big turnaround in his game an offensive explosion. The Pens scored 3.3 goals/60 at 5v5 with Malkin on the ice last year, but allowed 2.9 goals. As good as he was managing to go over a point per game, he still gave a lot of it back. This year, Pittsburgh scored north of 4 Goals/60 with Malkin on the ice, and he still allowed 2.98 GA/60. Defense isn’t his specialty, but it makes a much bigger impact scoring almost a full goal per 60 more.
Best bounceback - Patric Hornqvist
Entering year two of a five year contract extension with a heady $5.3 million cap hit, there was reason for consternation about Hornqvist in his age 32/33 season this year. In 2018-19 he was banged up and scored a full-season career-low of 18 goals and 19 assists (in 69 games). This year, Hornqvist was able to mostly shrug that off scoring 17G+15A in 52 games before the stoppage. Hornqvist also saw improvements in his GF/60 (from 2.61 to 2.73) and also helped clamp down defensive lowering his GA/60 (2.04 to 1.6) and upped his P/60 from 1.69 to 2.17. Age may yet catch up to him, but it was a sneaky good season for Hornqvist, who also doesn’t always pick up points on the power play, but is often a distracting force in front of the net for the goalies to deal with.
Best beard- Patrick Marleau
Seriously, let’s hope we get to see a good Old Guy Without a Cup powers deep into the summer.
Most under-rated nationally - Brian Dumoulin
Around the league, there’s not much fanfare for a defensive defenseman who is, well, actually good at defending. The Penguins perform stellar with Dumoulin on the ice, often with Letang and the Sidney Crosby line. Dumoulin is the anchor that stays at home, can defend the rush, pinch off angles and has a good gap and stick to disrupt plays. Lots of subtle stuff that doesn’t show up often in the boxscore. He gives freedom to the other four players on the ice to think offense. He can also make a pass, skate the puck and use his size and vision to be a useful player with the puck on his stick. He’s a true top pair defenseman with a bargain $4 million long-term cap hit that is among the best values in the league.
Most under-rated by the coaching staff - Juuso Riikola
It’s crazy how much better any and all data will show that Riikola is in a third-pairing sheltered role than Chad Ruhwedel (to say nothing about Jack Johnson). Yet both consistently play ahead of him, for reasons unknown. If the Penguins were truly going to go on merit and create their best defensive lineup, Riikola should be third pair left defense. He won’t be, but he should.
Best new addition - Jason Zucker
In my opinion, Jason Zucker will probe to be the Pens’ best trade add in the middle of a season since Marian Hossa in 2008. Zucker scored 12 points (6G+6A) in 15 games with Pittsburgh. He’s got speed, is good along the walls, works on the forecheck and is generally just a good, solid all-around player. That the Pens got him at age 28 with three more seasons at a reasonable $5.5m cap hit is a huge win, especially for the price of a future first round pick plus boom/bust prospect Calen Addison. That’s turned into a solid value-add that has already paid off on the ice and helped boost the team in their February doldrums.
Most likely to be the next Pascal Dupuis - Evan Rodrigues
He even wears the number 9, a match made in heaven! Dupuis came over in the aforementioned Hossa trade as a throw-in and proved to be the most long-lasting product of the trade. Rodrigues similarly was a bit of a kick-in for the Pens to get Conor Sheary back, but unlike Sheary, Rodrigues is a restricted free agent this off-season. Rodrigues, 26, toiled with the hapless Sabres for a few seasons. He put up 61 points in 41 games as a senior with Boston University in 2014-15. Rodrigues, like Dupuis in his early days, has mostly been a fourth liner. But he’s got some versatility to play any of the three forward positions, has some speed and maybe, just maybe, some point production in his future if placed in an advantageous position. He just seems like a guy next year when a couple injuries strike that will be playing with Crosby and Malkin....And then I guess we’ll see if he can turn that into success like the old #9 did.
Who are some other Pens’ superlatives you have in mind for this season?