Be careful, they’ll find you. The social media crowd which for most of the last 12 months has reflexively derided Pittsburgh Penguins winger Dominik Simon is in trouble. The small Czech forward who is in only his second full NHL season is beginning to figure it out. Simon is beginning to score at a greater pace and one which matches his elevated level of play. He fits on the Penguins top line and the evidence is no longer buried in advanced statistics.
But changing opinions is difficult.
For those who have watched Simon this season, there no doubt he is an NHL player and a legitimate contributor to the Penguins top line. After a big night on Tuesday, Simon has nine points (2g, 7a) in 13 games, which is a 54-point pace to open the season. That’s a much better clip than his sometimes inexplicable cold spells last season which produced only 28 points. PHN asked Simon if he feels better with the puck this season.
“Yeah, definitely. I feel really good. I try to keep working on all aspects of the game, try working on (my) shot,” Simon said. “I have great teammates. It’s just the beginning of the season, but yeah, I feel great.”
Simon who simultaneously excites and depresses fans by not finishing enough of the scoring chances he creates is not the typical Sidney Crosby linemate who relies on Crosby. Instead, Simon is the rare breed who elevates the line. Without diving into 2000 words and advanced analytics charts (because we’ve already done that), Simon makes Crosby more than 10% better. There should be no wonder why Crosby likes to play with Simon.
Simply watch the plays Simon makes with the puck to create scoring chances for his linemates. Watch the hard work on the walls to retrieve pucks, but also the creativity to do more than simply throw the puck to open space or blast low percentage shots.
Dominik Simon Growth
His goal was the type of play Simon needs to make more often this season. He found open space in the Philadelphia zone and took it.
“Sid made a nice play through two sticks, and I went (over Philadelphia goalie Brian Elliott’s) blocker. And it went in,” Simon succinctly described his goal. “You’ve got to be ready (for those passes) from Sid because he can always find the space or the soft spot.”
Crosby scored a nifty marker Tuesday night, too. He snapped a beauty that fooled Elliott and Simon got the primary assist. Like Crosby, Simon found a passing lane and fed Crosby through multiple sticks.
Simon’s seven assists in just 13 games could be a by-product of inhabiting the ice with Crosby. It certainly helps when Crosby and 40-goal scorer Jake Guentzel are the players Simon is setting up, but don’t overlook that Simon is setting them up.
One player which is overlooked in the coming contract worries of the Pittsburgh Penguins is Simon. Jared McCann, Matt Murray, Justin Schultz are those who will need a new contract. But what of Dominik Simon, who is 25-years-old, makes Crosby better but only makes $750,000. Perhaps a healthy new contract will add fresh fuel to those who can’t let go.
Maybe it’s just a sign of the times. As we have access to offer our opinions 24-hours per day and have access to find others who agree, no opinion is ever wrong and thus changing them can be a herculean task. So despite the mountains of visual evidence to the contrary, despite glowing praise on and off the record from the Penguins coaches and players, and despite the advanced analytics which has shown Simon to improve every line he plays, there are those who cannot wait for the fall not because Simon is a bad person or player, but because those folks have emotionally invested in the contrary opinion.
That’s not unique to Penguins fans, but maybe it’s time to bury the negative Simon opinions. Actually, no maybe about it.