One goal – particularly when it comes in a preseason game – doesn’t change perceptions, but the nice finish Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin showed in his 2019 preseason debut the other day at least once again brought up the question of just how to define his game.
Go ahead, just try and pigeonhole Dumoulin as an NHL defenseman.
At 28, he is, by conventional standards, in the prime of his career. He is a two-time Stanley Cup champion playing on the Penguins’ top pairing with one of the team’s core players and big names, Kris Letang.
He is probably not the first – or maybe the fifth or sixth – name that comes to mind when rattling off the Penguins’ top players.
So how does Dumoulin define his game? PHN asked him that this week. The word he came up with was “reliable.”
He is that, but he is not a conventional stay-at-home defenseman. Which is why his answer went a good bit beyond a one-word answer:
“I think first and foremost (being reliable) is my job and that’s what I do best – breaking pucks out, playing a simple game. I’m not going to try and razzle-dazzle. The puck needs to get out of the (defensive) zone. Just try and keep it simple and make the simple play. I like to support the rush, get up there. If I can jump up there and be a second wave for them and help them out, that will benefit me and the team.”
With 10 goals, 74 points in 319 NHL games, Dumoulin will never be confused with his defense partner. But neither is Letang a one-dimensional defenseman even though value often is rooted in the offensive side of his game and his high skill level.
“Tanger’s not going to jump up every play,” Dumoulin said. “He wants to, but regardless he’s got to play defense, too. (If he finds himself) in the corner and I’m net-front, that’s my opportunity to jump (into action on offense). Me and Tanger, it’s not just an offensive defenseman with a defensive defenseman. We try and read off each other and try and be the best partners we can for each other.”
And yet Dumoulin seems to be pegged as a defensive defenseman, in great part because of being Letang’s partner, the defensive yin to Letang’s offensive yang.
That designation was reinforced last season, when Dumoulin led the Penguins and ranked fifth in the NHL with a plus-minus rating of plus-31.
Dumoulin, who is expected to be in the lineup Wednesday for the Penguins’ fourth preseason game against Detroit at PPG Paints Arena, has a little more skill than many might assign him.
Sunday at Detroit, Dumoulin converted a pass from Brandon Tanev and scored on a pretty backdoor play.
That led to coach Mike Sullivan addressing Dumoulin’s label issue. He made it clear he doesn’t consider Dumoulin a one-way defenseman.
“I’ve always felt that Dumo helps our offense, even though it doesn’t always show up on the scoresheet in goals and assists,” Sullivan said. “He’s such a good skater. He joins the rush. He helps us create that four-man front that a lot of times allows our forwards to get the blue line with possession. He may never end up with the puck or end up in the play, but just his presence by joining the rush helps us create offense.
“Also, he makes a great outlet pass. He goes tape to tape. He sees the ice pretty well. He’s poised with the puck. He really helps us get out of our end efficiently. So even though he’s not a big numbers guy offensively, I’ve always felt that he’s a guy that’s helped us generate offense as a team.”
Dumoulin appreciates and agrees with that.
“You can look at a lot of the goals scored and they’ll start from clean breakouts and putting it tape to tape,” he said. “That’s how you get the odd-man rushes.”
Perhaps the stereotype of Dumoulin as a stay-at-home guy is too ingrained to change in the minds of many at this point, and the team appreciates his defensive side, but he and the Penguins are fine with looking beyond labels where is game is concerned.