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Four depth Penguins are aiming for career seasons in 2022

Injuries and COVID have set the stage for some unexpected Penguins to work toward career seasons this New Year.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals
Brock McGinn celebrates a goal against the Washington Capitals on December 10.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Bryan Rust has been out for 18 Penguins games. Sidney Crosby has been absent for 12. Jake Guentzel has been out for six, and Evgeni Malkin has missed all 30.

With the Penguins’ top four forwards missing significant time, players lower down the lineup have gotten the chance to step up— and they’ve taken it. Let’s take a look at some of the few Penguins players who have skated in all 30 games so far, and are therefore on track to finish out a career season in 2022. (Real and projected stats are courtesy of hockey-reference, assuming the Penguins complete a full 82-game season, with additional numbers from Natural Stat Trick.)

Brock McGinn

Through 30 games: 8-4—12

Projected stats through 82: 22-10—32

Career high: 2017-18 with the Carolina Hurricanes (16-14—30 in 80 games)

McGinn has averaged a career-high 15:25 of ice time in 2021-22 so far. For the fourth season in a row, he’s averaging over two minutes at 4v5 per game as a main part of the Penguins’ historically good penalty kill, in addition to a career-high ATOI at even strength. That’s part of the reason that he’s on track to hit 20 goals for the first time in his seven-season NHL career.

Danton Heinen

Through 30 games: 9-5—14

Projected stats through 82: 24-13—37

Career high: 2017-18 with the Boston Bruins (16-31—47 in 77 games)

As COVID-19 protocols and injuries have ravaged the Penguins’ roster, Heinen has bounced up and down the lineup wherever a spot needs to be filled. It’s easier to list who he hasn’t skated with. At 5v5, he has logged over 30 minutes alongside Jeff Carter, Jason Zucker, Evan Rodrigues, Dominik Simon, Jake Guentzel, Brian Boyle, Drew O’Connor and Teddy Blueger. Since his 16-goal rookie season in 2017-18, Heinen’s goal totals have steadily decreased— but his flexibility in bouncing around the lineup has set him on track to reach 20 goals for the first time this season.

Evan Rodrigues

Through 30 games: 10-13—23

Projected stats through 82: 27-35—62

Career high: 2018-19 with the Buffalo Sabres (9-20—29 in 74 games)

It’s a familiar story: little-known players who get a shot on Crosby’s wing tend to put up career numbers. And this season at 5v5, Rodrigues has spent more time on the ice with Sidney Crosby than without him. It’s given Rodrigues a chance to show off the offensive skills that one allowed him to excel alongside another star center at Boston University, when he skated alongside current Vegas Golden Knight Jack Eichel.

Teddy Blueger

Through 30 games: 7-5—12

Projected stats through 82: 18-13—31

Career high: 2019-20 with the Pittsburgh Penguins (9-13—22)

Like McGinn, Blueger has been offered a career-high ice time at even strength in addition to being a core component of the Penguins’ penalty kill this season, leading to a career-high 16:22 ATOI. 11 of his 12 points have come at even strength, excepting his shorthanded goal on December 19. Part of that increased ice time has been earned with dominance on the dot— at 54.9%, he’s earning a winning faceoff percentage for the first time in his NHL career.

Blueger is signed through next season and McGinn through 2024-25, but Heinen is an RFA, while Rodrigues is a UFA at the end of this campaign. So far, unlike the unfortunately injured Rust, they have gotten the chance to set themselves up well in their contract years.