The Penguins played in game No. 22 last night, opening up the second quarter of their 82-game season. Hockey is a team sport but here’s how the individual pieces have graded out over the opening portion of the season. Grades are adjusted for expectations, roles and also overall impact.
Sidney Crosby, A+: Crosby has looked timeless in his age-35 season, pouring on the points to be among the league leaders and has occasionally willing his team to victory. He’s on pace for 108 points, which would be his highest offensive output since 2009-10 if he gets there.
Jason Zucker, A: THIS, now this is the Jason Zucker the Pens traded for way back when that they haven’t truly seen until this point. Zucker is making a difference hounding pucks on the forecheck, he’s going to the net, he’s making plays with the puck, he’s been a great complimentary member of a scoring line. Great start for him.
Evgeni Malkin, A: Malkin shouldn’t need redemption at this point, but after a difficult contract negotiation he’s playing like a guy with something to prove. He’s appeared in all the games so far and has been one of the top players in most of them too.
Rickard Rakell, A-: Funny how between Crosby and Malkin, the best line at that moment this year has typically been the one that Rakell has been on. Rakell has been productive: he has a heavy shot, is great at tipping pucks, has the vision and playmaking to setup goals. Rakell’s a really nice fit with the offensive skills and mindset of this team.
Jake Guentzel, B+: Guentzel is still a point-per-game winger (19 in 18 so far this season), and has already cracked the double-digit mark for goals. At times something has felt a bit off in his game, but he’s also set a ridiculously high standard to live up to. Overall Guentzel can be prone to a little too much nit-picking, but is producing as he should be as an elite offensive winger.
Brock McGinn, B: Rode a hot shooting streak to score five goals in a seven game stretch from November 7-20th, but that was also a crucial time where Pittsburgh desperately needed someone to step up and contribute to end their losing streak. McGinn deserves credit for the timeliness of answering the bell when the team needed a hero. He won’t score every game or a high percentage forever, but it would be nice if he doesn’t disappear completely in the next stretch of games and find a way to make a mark.
Josh Archibald, B: Archibald’s play has opened some eyes, but it shouldn’t have been a surprise - he’s been as advertised and exactly what the Penguins wanted when they signed him. He brings relentless energy to the fourth line, is fearless to throw his body and be aggressively physical and can also pop in the odd goal along the way.
Ryan Poehling, B-: Role-dependent grade, but Poehling has earned his way into the lineup for every game so far this season. He’s been versatile on wing and center, has PKed a little, adds some young legs and speed for the Pens. Has done a nice job so far.
Jeff Carter, C: Just kinda been there so far. Only has one goal (an empty netter) in 10 games since returning from a back injury, and as usual the advanced stats don’t paint a pretty picture. Carter had some positive moments in the first quarter, but over the grind of a long season you also can’t shake the feeling that this might already be the high point for the veteran..
Danton Heinen, D: He’s fine for his salary but after a red hot start (3G+3A in first five games), Heinen has been mostly invisible and a non-factor since (0G+3A in last 17 games). While he isn’t and shouldn’t be expected to stand out that much in every game, he’s left you wanting more considering he’s coming off an 18-goal season last year. Heinen has the tendency to run very hot and very cold, there’s always the chance he will get back on a heater at some point to pitch in more somewhere down the line. He needs to if he wants to remain in the lineup.
Bryan Rust, D: Rust can also be a streaky offensive player and has been under-performing. In the last 19 games, he has only 3G+2A. That’s not going to cut it for the Pens’ top six and first power play (where he has only 1 PPG and three points so far overall). Rust is shooting what would be a career low 8.8% right now, he’s a very obvious positive regression candidate to improve and find some good luck when his luck changes, but it hasn’t been a pretty picture for him to start the year. For a guy who scored 156 points in 171 games over the last three seasons (an average of a 75-point pace for a full season), Rust is only on pace for 37 points this year. I expect he will turn it around and get better, but he still needs to turn it around and get better.
Kasperi Kapanen, F: Kapanen played his way out of the lineup, and possibly all the way off the team if they can find a taker for him. Despite coaching and management’s best efforts and beliefs, Kapanen just has never been able to keep his motivation/confidence/mindset on track for very long, which the player himself has been open about at times. Just didn’t work no matter how hard the organization tried.
Teddy Blueger, Incomplete: Not going to grade based on just seven games, but early returns are very positive and encouraging for Blueger to shake off a frustrating injury and make a positive impact upon his return.
Marcus Pettersson, B+: For years Pettersson has had great analytics but failed to capture the confidence of the coaches to get a large role. This year (with no real alternative), he’s gotten the opportunity to play more and has done well with it. And his 10 assists in 22 games is nice to start or keep the offense going now that he’s largely been with the top players.
Jan Rutta, B-: Rutta has been just fine and even scored a few goals with a heavy shot that he isn’t afraid to unleash. He’s a decent third pair guy- not much more, not much less.
P.O. Joseph, B-: After not knowing what to expect from a camp where Joseph’s main driver to make the team seemed to be that the Pens didn’t want to waive him, he’s been impressive to start the year. He’s young and green and not without mistakes but also can cover for it with the positive tools he brings to the table (size, reach, skating ability). He’s not a game-changer, but has been worthy of a spot in the lineup, which is always a great place for a young player to start and hopefully grow from there.
Kris Letang, C: Don’t know quite what to make about Letang, who has had a very uneven start. For the last decade, if Letang hasn’t been THE singular best defenseman in the league on most games/months/seasons, he’s been right up there at the top. However, at this point he’s fading a bit from that level of play. Getting right with a good partner will probably help, but overall it’s concerning to see Letang not be as in control of games as he once was. He also needs to play better and help the power play get going as one of the most important pieces of that group.
Jeff Petry, C: Much like Letang, it’s difficult to analyze Petry’s first 22 games in Pittsburgh in just a few brief sentences. Petry has had some good moments and some bad ones. He’s a veteran defender who can do a bit of everything well, but it’s also possible at age-34 the Pens may have been hoping or wishing that he was closer to in his prime. Still, it can be tough for a new defender to adjust to a new team, system and coach strategy, so we’ll see how the next segment goes.
Brian Dumoulin, D-: It’s sad to see how far his game has fallen, hopefully he can rebuild some sense of it from the third pair as the season goes on, but it’s not looking good. Talking much more about it is just depressing, big time struggles for Dumo with his skating, decisions in the d-zone and getting rushed into making mistakes and being on the wrong end of goals.
Casey DeSmith, B-: Honestly, bumping his grade up for the stretch on Nov 9-11 where DeSmith was great against Washington (ending the Pens’ seven-game losing streak) and then in Toronto in another win. The season felt like it was hanging in the balance at that point, and the the team needed him to step up with Jarry apparently a little dinged up. DeSmith answered the call in a major way and that should count for a lot. Overall DeSmith has had some C and D games too, but he deserves some extra credit for the context of being very solid when the team absolutely needed him.
Tristan Jarry, B-: Jarry has an 8-3-2 record and .914 save% on the season, which are both strong stats on the surface and worthy of praise. However, in a hard to articulate way, it also feels like Jarry’s season has been shakier than that and added up to less than the sum of those parts. Not really too worried about him since he’s gotten back on track lately (and the aforementioned injury that he was playing through for a bit couldn’t have helped matters), but he hasn’t yet been as consistent or impressive as he would want to be overall.