PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang knew his Penguins defense partner was close enough to hear him Tuesday in the PPG Paints Arena locker room after practice. So he decided to troll Brian Dumoulin by denying that Dumoulin is the team’s resident connoisseur and go-to guy for restaurant suggestions on the road.
“No, I am. He’s calling me,” Letang said with a laugh as Dumoulin waved him off and headed out of the room.
Dumoulin, 26, not only is the biggest foodie on the club, but he is also the locker room DJ. And the players’ fantasy football commissioner. He has entrenched himself so much that it seems strange to think he didn’t become a full-time NHLer with the Penguins until the 2015-16 season – just in time to be a regular in the past two consecutive Stanley Cup runs. He opened the scoring in the clinching Game 6 against San Jose in the 2016 Cup final.
In less than three seasons as a full-timer, Dumoulin has established himself as a top-pair defenseman — reliable enough defensively to play with the offensively gifted Letang and yet with enough of a touch of skill to move the puck effectively and to reach a career high this season in goals (five) and points (18). Six of those points, all assists, have come in the past five games.
And that’s in spite of the fact that his goal on a spectacular sweep across the crease in Toronto last month was waved off and wiped out by a controversial goaltender interference penalty.
“I think it’s his confidence getting better, gaining more confidence,” Letang said. “Obviously, we all know him for his defensive play, but he’s a pretty good skater. He can jump in the rush. His confidence is building, and he’s becoming a more complete player.”
He Learned From Big Names
Dumoulin has a strong pedigree, having been part of two NCAA championship teams at Boston College plus the two Stanley Cups, so that confidence is well-founded.
Although he doesn’t have an extra letter on his jersey like team captain Sidney Crosby and alternate captains Letang and Evgeni Malkin, Dumoulin has steadily become one of the players who serves as a spokesman for the club, often sought out by reporters. And he has grown into a leadership role within the club.
That’s not something that comes naturally or is ingrained in his personality, Dumoulin said. He figures he just has had some awfully good teachers and role models.
“I feel like throughout the years I’ve learned from a lot of great guys in this locker room. From my time being here, I’ve played with some great character guys,” Dumoulin said, citing former veteran teammates Chris Kunitz, Matt Cullen and Pascal Dupuis, along with current teammates Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Patric Hornqvist.
“They lead by example. It’s fun to talk to those guys. They’re vocal, but they’re quiet at times also. It’s good to kind of chip in and have another voice in the locker room that I can bring.”
Letang indicated it’s been a natural and welcome emergence.
“He’s getting older. He’s getting more experienced,” Letang said. “Obviously, he plays big minutes, a big role for our team. He’s becoming a guy that we have to look up to.”
A Lot On His Plate
That includes Dumoulin’s expertise when it comes to his palette, despite Letang’s teasing. Whether it’s cooking or finding good restaurants and dishes, Dumoulin has immersed himself in food culture when he’s not knee-pad-deep in hockey.
In fact, before the teasing, Dumoulin and Letang had minutes earlier been talking about places to eat in Columbus, where the team will fly and dine Wednesday in advance of a big showdown Thursday night, and, sure enough, Letang was doing the asking and Dumoulin the suggesting.
Dumoulin doesn’t scale back or go conservative when it comes to food choices during the playoffs, a time when a lot of players fall back hard on routines and superstitions.
“It’s nice because obviously with playoff series you’re (in a particular city) a couple days, so you can explore a little bit,” Dumoulin said. “There’s not a bad city in this league, and there’s good food everywhere, so it’s fun to go to different cities and try out some new restaurants.”