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Brian Boyle has been a nice surprise

He does not play a major role, but he plays his role very well.

Ottawa Senators v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Justin K. Aller/NHLI via Getty Images

My immediate reaction to the news that the Pittsburgh Penguins were inviting Brian Boyle to training camp was, admittedly, nothing more than an eye roll. It just seemed like a move to bring “size” and “toughness” for the sake of bringing size and toughness and that it would result in more of a role than was needed. There was also the question of what all Boyle had left in the tank as an NHL player. In hindsight, that was all pretty stupid. Not only is that not really something that has ever happened with Mike Sullivan in terms of player usage, but there was never really any room for that sort of role for such a player on this roster anyway.

He was here to bring depth, be an extra forward, play when needed. That is exactly what has happened. The truly surprising thing at this point is that Boyle still seems to have something left in the tank, especially for this particular role.

On Tuesday he scored his fourth goal of the season in a 6-3 win on a ridiculous move in front of the net, beating Arizona Coyotes goalie Karel Vejmelka with a between-the-legs shot that I am not sure anybody expected from Boyle.

Overall, there is nothing eye-opening about his numbers this season. He has five goals, one assist, and six total points in 28 games. But when you consider his role, his age, the preseason expectations, and the fact he came to camp on a tryout contract and counts next to nothing against the salary cap it is a strong overall performance.

Those numbers project out to a 14-goal pace over 82 games. Now keep in mind that when Boyle is in the lineup he only plays about 10 minutes per game, with a significant portion of that ice-time coming on the penalty kill. Nearly 20 percent of his total ice time this season (by far the highest share of any skater on the roster) has come on the PK. He barely plays eight minutes of 5-on-5 ice time per game, and still has contributed some meaningful offense in that time. Among forwards that have played at least 100 5-on-5 minutes this season, his 0.97 goals per 60 minutes is fifth on the team behind Jake Guentzel, Evgeni Malkin, Brock McGinn(!), and Kasperi Kapanen (!!).

(The moral of the story there is some guys have been really productive this season.)

This is not really an argument that Boyle should be getting more time. It is just a statement of fact that the Penguins found a really useful depth forward for next to nothing. That is a big part of what has made this team so good this season, having so many players that can step in the lineup and contribute. The superstars at the top are still the superstars at the top. They can carry the most significant part of the offense and control games. They can not do it all on their own, though. There has to be more behind them. There is more. A lot more. They still have a plus-12 goal differential when Crosby and Malkin are not on the ice during 5-on-5 play and have better than 52 percent shares of shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances, and expected goals in those minutes. The depth here is real and outstanding and is really driving a lot of their success so far this season. Boyle might be a small part of that, but he is a part of it.

He has also been a significant part of what has been one of the league’s best penalty killing units. Just a solid addition in every way the Penguins needed him to be and for what they are asking from him.

Really just wanted to take a minute to say I was wrong about this signing in a lot of ways and it is working out in a nice way.