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What could Radim Zohorna bring to the Penguins in 2021-22?

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A closer look at the rookie center’s 2020-21 AHL campaign.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Pittsburgh Penguins
Radim Zohorna warms up before his NHL debut against the Buffalo Sabres on March 25, 2021.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As the tallest person on the ice, Radim Zohorna was an eye-catching addition to the Penguins from the moment he stepped into PPG Paints Arena to warm up for his NHL debut against the visiting Sabres on March 25, 2021.

Under 18 minutes into the first period, the 25-year-old Czech rookie proved he’d caught those eyes for a reason when he launched a decisive one-timer off of a behind-the-net pass to score the deciding tally of a 4-0 shutout with his first NHL goal.

Zohorna played just eight games with the Penguins in 2020-21 between March 25 and April 18. But with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both out for the start of the season, the Penguins are going to need some depth centers— and Zohorna might be just their man.

To learn more about how he would fit onto the Penguins roster, let’s take a look at Zohorna’s debut AHL season. Zohorna registered 11 points (3-8—11) through 12 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2020-21, 11 before his NHL debut (Feb. 8 to March 13) and one after (April 3). What elements of his game stood out the most in this stretch?

Zohorna’s shot

His first NHL goal may have been on an expertly-placed one-timer, but Zohorna’s best offense doesn’t come from out in the slot; it’s born from his ability to lift the puck high from right in the blue paint. His shootout goal against visiting Syracuse on March 3 is an excellent example.

Zohorna’s delicate hands give him to ability to roof the puck in close, including on the backhand, and make him a serious threat in the blue paint.

Zohorna’s skating

Part of the reason Zohorna is such a danger down low is because of his long arms, which allow him to sweep the puck around defenders and into the crease. Watch this clip from a clash in Syracuse on Feb. 13. Zohorna uses his prodigious reach to poke-check the puck away from Crunch defenders at the Penguins’ blue line, then lengthens his stride to outstate the defenders to the net.

The clip is at the beginning of the video above.

Although Zohorna’s long steps can beat unprepared opponents to the puck, he is often outpaced by speedy sprinters. There were a plethora of occasions in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season where Zohorna lost races on the backcheck. His skating speed is one of his biggest areas for improvement.

Zohorna’s power-play presence

Zohorna spent just over seven minutes on the second power-play unit during his eight-game stint in the NHL, where he recorded one assist and was on the ice for nine Penguins shots against.

Looking at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s 2020-21 campaign can give us more hints about what role Zohorna could play if he earns increased man-advantage time with the Penguins.

When everyone on the Penguins’ first power-play unit is healthy, the squad will sometimes keep just Kris Letang at the point, while Crosby and Malkin slide lower down along the sides and Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust cover the bottom corners.

In contrast, the Baby Penguins usually opted to keep two skaters back at the point— and Zohorna was often one of them. Acting in this role during a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton power play against visiting Hershey on Feb. 11, Zohorna was first to the puck, then took advantage of his size to keep it in the zone.

The clip is at 1:23 of the video above.

When down low, Zohorna sometimes loses his mark, but he serves as a reliable stanchion at the blue line. Although the 220-pound forward doesn’t often use his size for heavy hits, he can effectively box defenders out from reaching the puck.

That quality could improve the ability of the Penguins’ second power-play unit to keep the puck in the offensive zone, if the team decides to take advantage of Zohorna’s league-minimum contract and use him as a depth option.