The Pittsburgh Penguins were big winners at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline not only because they were able to get a good player at a position of need (winger Rickard Rakell from the Anaheim Ducks), but because they were able to do so without really giving away all that much. Couple of depth players, a second-round draft pick that you hope is a late second-round pick (not even a 50-50 chance of eventually being an NHL player), and a prospect at a position where you actually have some organizational depth.
General manager Ron Hextall accomplished his goal of upgrading his roster without trading the team’s first-round pick or one of its top prospects (Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Samuel Poulin, Nathan Legare). Good business there.
There are also some winners already on the team as a result of that trade, and one of those is forward Radim Zohorna who should now get a little bit more of a look with Zach Aston-Reese and Dominik Simon now playing for the Anaheim Ducks. He was back in the lineup on Tuesday night and scored his second goal of the season in the Penguins’ 5-1 win. The goal is great not only because it is more depth scoring, but also because it opened the scoring for the Penguins on Tuesday and got the offense rolling. Even more than the goal itself is the fact that Zohorna continues to impress when he is in the lineup. He is helping to produce numbers that are enough to ask the question, what if this guy is a really good hockey player? He might actually be. At the very least, he has made a great first impression.
It is still a very small sample size at this point, but his individual and underlying numbers are laughably good. He has only played 21 NHL games in his career (including 13 games this season) but his individual scoring rates at 5-on-5 are among the best on the team in terms of goals and total points. He four goals, four assists, and eight total points in those games despite averaging just around 10 minutes of ice-time per game (he is at 11 minutes so far this season per game). That still averages out to a 15-goal, 32-point pace over 82 games with that ice time. That is impressive.
The underlying numbers are even better.
In 200 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey over the past two seasons the Penguins have dominated with Zohorna on the ice. They have a 56 percent shot attempt share, a 58 percent scoring chance share, a 58 percent high-danger scoring chance share, and a 56 percent expected goal share. Even more impressive, the Penguins have outscored teams by a 16-2 margin with him on the ice. That includes a 9-0 mark this season. Are those numbers all because of him? Of course not. But he absolutely contributes to them. He brings that size and strength you might want as a depth player, while also possessing some strong skating ability and skill to be able to chip in some offense. He is noticeable (in a good way) when he is on the ice.
Not really sure if any of those numbers are sustainable because, again, it is a ridiculously small sample size. The results are still encouraging for what the Penguins need him to be as a bottom-six winger. They do not need him to be a top-line scorer. They need him to do what he has done so far in his brief NHL career. It is his presence, along with the fact that Brian Boyle still has something left in the tank, and the potential of a player like Drew O’Connor that made players like Aston-Reese and Simon as viable trade chips to land a player like Rakell to upgrade the roster.
The other important part of Zohorna and his presence on the roster is that he is still signed through the end of next season at a salary cap hit of just $750,000 each season. You get this sort of play at that price on your fourth line and you are getting a win every single time. Am excited and intrigued to see what he can do with this opportunity here.