The Penguins have long been pushed to the side with their seasons over, but some of their former players are thriving or struggling in the crucible known as the NHL playoffs. Let’s check in on them.
Former Penguins: Evan Rodrigues, Jack Johnson
Rodrigues has had a successful go out in Colorado this season, and with Gabriel Landeskog not playing at all and Valeri Nichushkin now unavailable— Rodrigues is probably a bit more of an important player in the lineup than the Avs might have anticipated. It’s paid off with five points (1G+4A) in the six games. Jack Johnson has returned for the last two games, averaged about 14 minutes and somehow the Avs can overcome that. Modern miracle.
Former Penguins: Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev, Daniel Sprong, Jamie Oleksiak, Justin Schultz
I saw a joke somewhere (maybe twitter, maybe reddit?) that the Kraken are largely Jim Rutherford’s reject players led by Ron Hextall’s reject coach. Pretty funny and a lot of accuracy there. Unfortunately the biggest impact in the large group of former Penguins above might be when Jared McCann took a late hit from Cale Makar, resulting in a one-game suspension for the all-world Colorado defender. McCann was injured on the play and hasn’t comeback since, a huge loss for Seattle to lose their leading goal and point scorer from the regular season.
Schultz is having a nice late-career renaissance with the Kraken. He’s only averaged 15:33 this series, but put in good places (power play, offensive zone starts) that lean into his strengths, leading to a goal and four assists in the series so far.
The curious case of Daniel Sprong continues, after scoring 21 goals and 46 points in 66 games this season with the Kraken, Sprong is only playing 8:20 per game and only has nine total SOG in six games. He does have a goal and an assist in the limited action, but hasn’t seemed to take well to the intensity and increased responsibility of playoff hockey.
Former Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury, Frederick Gaudreau, Oskar Sundqvist, Alex Goligoski, Ryan Reaves, Calen Addison and Filip Gustavsson
Wild GM Bill Guerin loves his former Penguins from the good old days, but unfortunately that wasn’t enough to get Minnesota past the Dallas Stars in the first round.
It’s not the fault of Frederick Gaudreau, who you can’t help but like and notice as a guy who just does a solid job and finds a way to make good things happen. Gaudreau scored three goals in the series.
The Wild rotated their goalies generously during the season, and often to tremendous results. But they left the door open for criticism by playing Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 2 after Filip Gustavsson won Game 1 in double OT. Whether fair or not, coincidence or correlated- Minnesota never really seemed like they were in the series again after dropping Game 2. That was pretty much it for Fleury, who only came in the last moments of the season to mop up for Game 6 after Dallas had a big lead and was cruising to a win.
Vegas Golden Knights
Former Penguins: Phil Kessel, Teddy Blueger
The Knights made Phil Kessel a healthy scratch earlier this week, but fear not playoff games do not count towards his official iron man streak. It’s sad and a shame it’s come to that, especially since Kessel was zipping around the ice against Winnipeg and looking as active and good to this observer as he’s been all season.
Speaking of healthy scratches, Blueger’s been an odd man out all playoff so far. We’ll see if that changes and it looks like Vegas could be on the verge of making a deep playoff run, so maybe Blueger will get the chance to get in there at some point.
Former Penguins: Nick Bjugstad, Cody Ceci
It’s weird seeing Nick Bjugstad play hockey well. Surely injuries hobbled his days in Pittsburgh and limited what he could do while with the Pens, but from the looks of it he’s getting around the ice a lot better. It looks like he’s found a spot and role as a checking line center, he’s always been a guy asked to do a little bit of a lot of things (scoring line winger, middle-line center, etc) and now has settled into a good niche for him. Bjugstad has scored two goals as well, he’s taking and winning most of the important d-zone and PK faceoffs Edmonton has (56.8% so far), it’s an important role that he’s filling well right now.
Similarly, Ceci has settled in as the Oilers’ No. 4 defenseman, plays 20+ minutes per night and keeps it moving along. It’s nice for him that his career has stabilized after such a turbulent start in Ottawa, Ceci is a reliable option out there.
Former Penguins: Patric Hornqvist
Sadly, Hornqvist hasn’t played a game since December 3rd due to concussion issues. It’s unknown and not looking very promising for his playing days. What a ride he helped take us all on, it’s a shame his NHL days might be ending with a whimper considering how impactful and loud he was on the ice.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Former Penguins: Zach Aston-Reese, Sam Lafferty, Matt Murray
Lafferty and Aston-Reese are just kinda bodies on the team - both were healthy scratches in Toronto’s ultra-rare series-clinching win last night. (Those words in the English language usually don’t all touch each other like that).
Murray’s up and down saga in Toronto, and his career at-large for that matter, continues to sadly not take off. Murray suffered a concussion in an April regular season game and has been back on the ice in practice lately, but it’s been Ilya Samsonov getting to play hero by winning the games. The playoffs can take some unexpected turns, could Murray somehow get healthy and get a chance to help the Leafs get even further? Never say never, but it does feel like it’s been so long since something good happened for Murray on the ice.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Former Penguins: Ian Cole
Thought Ian Cole had a pretty good series for Tampa. His game isn’t offense but he helped with three points in the six games (including a very handsy and decidedly not very Ian Cole looking goal!) Not enough to tip the balance of a whole series, but looked like a decent enough job for him this year.
Former Penguins: Jordan Staal, Stefan Noesen
Staal had no goals and two assists while captaining Carolina past the Islanders in the first round (way to go on that aspect!)...Noesen is the more interesting stories and one of the more interesting players in the NHL to me. He scored 2G+2A in six games in the series, he plays an important role for the Hurricanes (especially now absent Teuvo Teravainen, in addition to the long-gone Andrei Svechnikov). Noesen was in the AHL last year. He’s bounced in between the top leagues without finding much of a home — including his quick pass through in Pittsburgh a few years ago.
But now he’s a power play wizard and productive offensive player that’s helping a first place team win playoff games. It’s been a fascinating career arc for Noesen.
New Jersey Devils
Former Penguins: John Marino
The Pens didn’t want to live with Marino’s offensive limitations, but the Devils sure have loved to plug him into a huge shutdown role for them. Marino leads NJD with 23:03 TOI per game in their playoff series. He has zero points, and in fact has been on the ice for zero 5v5 goals scored by the Devils - to six against. A lot of the data in the chance breakdowns are in Marino’s favor, but he (and NJ at large) have had their struggles at times containing the high-skill levels of the Rangers players.
It’s not a much of a stretch to suggest a good Game 7 by Marino or a bad Game 7 could be the difference in NJ winning or losing the series. If it looks like Game 6 (Marino being a -2), the likelihood of the Devils moving on can’t be particularly high.