This NHL season has been wild. Preseason was one week of practices, which is certainly been a major factor for some of the players around the league. But some are thriving.
Let’s check out the grades for the Penguins so far, because they’re in a COVID pause, due to the deterioration of their division really with New Jersey and now Buffalo having significant issues with players and COVID. Whether or not this is the peak of the NHL’s problems with vaccinations rolling out or just a preview of the weeks and months to come remains unknown.
Grades are based on role and expectation, but also influenced by overall performance, and listed alphabetically.
Teddy Blueger [10 games played, 2 goals, 4 assists]: tied for third on the team in points, third among forwards with a 56.2% xGF%. An even 50.0% in the faceoff circle. Has been awesome, but surprisingly enough is only 10th among forwards in ES TOI (and 9th in total TOI). Grade: B+
Sidney Crosby [10gp, 4G+4A]: Crosby didn’t find much chemistry with Evan Rodrigues as his stand-in right winger, but Sid still has two overtime goals to help get the Pens more points in the standings. Crosby’s having an excellent start in the faceoff circle, his 56.7% rate would be a career-high, in a career where it’s tough to still raise the bar. The points aren’t there so far, in part to struggles on the power play that he and the team have had. And here’s a stat: in the 5 Pens’ losses so far, Crosby has just 2G+0A. In the team’s 5 wins this year he has 2G+4A. Crosby’s 5v5 Corsi%, xGF%, Scoring Chance% and High Danger% is all in the 59-61% range, and leads all forwards on the team. The numbers and dominance is still there. The production just isn’t...Yet. Grade: B
Jake Guentzel [10gp, 3G+3A]: Except for the OT goals and faceoffs, almost everything written above about Crosby applies to his running mate in Guentzel. Excellent underlying possession numbers, but the Pens only have a 4.9% 5v5 shooting% with #59 on the ice. Ideally that changes soon, especially with the upgrade on right wing that they have now. Guentzel, like everyone, has struggled on the power play as well, which stings. Guentzel is 2/2 in the shootout, helping the Pens big time in that department, which is no small matter when every point counts in a shortened season. Grade: B
Mark Jankowski [10gp, 1G+2A]: Jankowski started awesome, recording all three of his points so far this season in the first two games. Since then, it’s been a very drastic down-turn, he has gone cold and his ice time has been cut to the 8-11 minute range in part due to getting totally caved in and putting up the worst underlying advanced stats of the forward group. Jankowski doesn’t need to score every game, but he needs to play much better to remain a viable NHL lineup option. Grade: D
Kasperi Kapanen [7gp, 2G+3A]: Kapanen’s tremendous speed has been on display from the moment he was able to step on the ice, a season delayed by quarantine issues from a late arrival. The team brought him along patiently and finally took the reigns off him to put him on a scoring line, and he’s responded with 3 points in the last 4 games. So far, so good for the team’s biggest offseason addition. Grade: A-
Sam Lafferty [5gp, 0G+0A]: A knack for making costly mistakes dropped Lafferty temporarily to the taxi squad. He’s still somewhat inexperienced, but he’s not a young player. If he played like he practiced, the team would be getting a lot more out of him. But so far, he’s not. With Zach Aston-Reese healing up, Lafferty is a player who feels like he may be running out of chances for a while, and just hasn’t done enough in the opportunities he has had. Grade: D-
Evgeni Malkin: [10gp, 1G+4A]: Malkin looks like a veteran player struggling to find his groove with no preseason. He’s been awful on the power play, forcing what isn’t there. He hasn’t scored an even strength goal. But he does have 3A in the last four games and seems to be finding more with Kapanen on his wing. Which is good, because the Pens are going to need a lot more out of their star center. Ideally this reset and practice time gives Malkin the ability to find his footing and get sharper for the next 10 games. Grade: F
Jared McCann [10gp, 2G+3A]: Both of McCann’s goals have been of the fluky variety, but they don’t ask how, they ask how many and McCann keeps producing at a point-every-other-game rate like in the past. McCann has also done well from a lower line to put up decently impressive possession stats. And his 1.77 GA/60 is the second best among Pens’ forwards (behind Bryan Rust). Some offense and good defense is a valuable quality. Grade: B
Drew O’Connor [4gp, 0G+1A]: Used in a pinch, it hasn’t been a very visible spotlight for O’Connor, playing just 11:14 per game, but he hasn’t looked out of place either. Ideally for him, the Pens get healthy and the AHL season starts and O’Connor gets a chance for more seasoning and growth in the AHL, but he’ll definitely be back in the NHL, and probably sooner than later. Grade: C
Evan Rodrigues [6gp, 1G+0A]: The one goal came off his skate and otherwise he wasn’t able to create a lot with the top line and then suffered a tough luck injury. Might not be his fault, but unfortunately that’s the way it goes sometimes. The Rodrigues 2.0 expiriment hasn’t worked out as planned, and with this injury, who knows if it may derail his whole season or what role/opportunity may await him when he is able to return. Grade: D
Bryan Rust [10gp, 2G+5A]: Rust has used his speed and versatility to play all over the lineup, and is among the team’s leading scorers. Outside of an 11 shot game vs NYR, his SOG total for the most part remains low, and 0 PPG while on the first power play is disappointing to see his 16.7% shooting percentage last year fall to 6.5% now. Defensively he’s been great and his advanced stats are very sunny too. Grade: B+
Colton Sceviour [8GP, 2G+0A]: For a fourth liner, Sceviour has played as expected. Nothing fancy or special, but is an NHL caliber player. Mostly just a warm body and guy on the team, but it was nice to see him get a couple of goals early in the year to start out on the right foot. Grade: C
Brandon Tanev [10gp, 3G+1A]: A heart and soul player, Tanev leads Pens’ forwards in multiple categories such as hits (and leads them by a mile), and also blocked shots and takeaways. Tanev also has a knack for scoring goals in big moments, though his production isn’t steady (just 1G+0A in the last eight games). You can set your watch to his effort, toughness and desire — all wonderful traits to add to a team. Tanev’s bringing a lot to the table, but his lack of ability to create plays and generate assists (he has just 3 primary assists in 78 total games as a Penguin) is a real piece of the puzzle that’s holding him back from even greater heights. Grade: B
Jason Zucker [10gp, 3G+2A]: If this was a report card after five games, Zucker would rank very low. But he’s turned it on of late scoring 3G+1A in the last four games. The Pens need more of what he’s done in the second part of the young season. Scoring wingers can be streaky, so it was nice to see Zucker elevate almost the instant Kapanen was put on his line. They need to keep it going in support of Malkin, as one of the key aspects of this team’s chances for improving. Grade: B-