Every year there is always somebody that makes a surprising impact. This past season we saw a couple of them with Bryan Rust having an All-Star caliber year, Tristan Jarry literally going to the All-Star Game, Brandon Tanev being better than a lot of us thought he was going to be, and John Marino becoming a franchise cornerstone.
Who is it going to be this season for the Pittsburgh Penguins? There are some contenders.
Kasperi Kapanen. Think the concern with Kapanen is not necessarily about whether or not he is any good, but if he was worth the price the Penguins paid. Especially when compared to the free agent and trade market around the league this offseason.
Did the Penguins pay a high price? You bet they did.
Is it wild that Jim Rutherford’s merry-go-round of transactions brought back a player he previously traded? It is always wild.
Does Rutherford want him so badly because he has a connection to Sami Kapanen? Maybe!
Whatever the case, Kapanen is a good player. He is a talented player. He checks a lot of the boxes that the Penguins should be looking for in a player, and I think he is going to be a nice complement to the top line if that is where he ends up. It is always reckless when people project insane goal totals for a new winger in Pittsburgh simply because they are going to get to play next to Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin (it almost never works out that way — James Neal being the notable exception) but I do think he has a chance to be a good fit and maybe, by the end of the season, make people say “this trade was worth it.”
Pierre-Oliver Joseph. Joseph was always the key player to the Phil Kessel trade and his development was always going to be what makes or breaks it. He is set to open this season on the Penguins’ taxi-squad and is the only defenseman on it. When they need somebody (and for one reason or another, they will) he is going to be the first guy that gets the look.
By all accounts, he has been impressive so far in training camp.
Can he be this year’s John Marino? Could the Penguins possibly catch that lightning in a bottle again? Obviously it is too soon to know that for sure (the guy still has not even played an NHL game) but the potential here is very intriguing. If he gets a chance and does something with it, showing that he can be a long-term part of the defense, it certainly creates a lot of interesting possibilities (like maybe making Marcus Pettersson expendable in the future).
Evan Rodrigues. I mentioned this in the Penguins’ preview I wrote over at NBC this past week, but the sequence of events that resulted in Rodrigues being back on the roster this season is insane.
— Penguins trade Conor Sheary to Buffalo with Matt Hunwick to clear salary cap space.
— The next year the Penguins trade Olli Maatta to Chicago for Dominik Kahun to get cheaper and younger forward depth
— Less than a year later the Penguins trade Kahun to Buffalo to reacquire Sheary and also get Rodrigues
— That following offseason the Penguins trade restricted free agent Rodrigues to Toronto as part of the deal to re-acquire Kapanen.
— When Toronto does not give Rodrigues a qualifying offer, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent, the Penguins re-sign him.
That is incredible. Here is the thing though, I think I like Rodrigues as a fourth-line option and potential bottom-sixer. His offensive numbers dropped a year ago, but before that he was pretty much a 10-goal, 30-point player over 82 games with strong possession numbers and underlying numbers. Pretty much an ideal fourth-liner at what is pretty much the lowest cost you can add a veteran for against the salary cap. The bottom-six is my biggest concern with this team (aside from the goalies, probably) and they need some people to step forward and a bigger than expected impact. Maybe Mark Jankowski can. Maybe Sam Lafferty can. But I really want to see if Rodrigues can contribute something. He only played a handful of games here a year ago, and most of them were forgettable, but I saw flashes of it and I think he has shown enough previously to believe there is something useful there.