PITTSBURGH — Dominik Simon is a possession driver for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins head coach heaped praise on Simon, Monday and the analytics are in complete agreement.
Simon, 24, elevates Penguins centers, even the offensively challenged pivots Riley Sheahan and Derek Grant. The small forward from the Czech Republic who has shuffled around the lineup, from the right wing of Sidney Crosby to Derick Brassard’s left wing. And Simon, 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, has also spent time on the Penguins fourth line with Derek Grant and Riley Sheahan.
“He’s strong on the puck. He’s not big in stature but he’s really strong on the puck,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “He helps (linemates) get the puck back.”
The numbers are significant.
According to the line tool from NaturalStattrick.com, Simon’s skills are evident. Crosby’s Corsi rises by three percentage points to 61 percent and his scoring chances rise five percent to 65 percent. In over 104 minutes, Crosby and Simon have generated 65 percent of the on-ice scoring chances.
Simon’s work with Brassard is perhaps more impressive. In 65 minutes with Simon, Brassard’s scoring chance ratio spikes by 18 points from 42 percent to nearly 60 percent. Brassard has played 50 minutes without Simon and 65 with, so the sample sizes are close to enough to say, “Holy schnikes”.
In 36 minutes with Derek Grant, who has been up and down from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season, the duo has earned 60 percent of scoring chances. Without Simon, Grant has a whopping 33 percent of those chances. In a small sample size, Simon also raises Sheahan’s Corsi by 23 points (66 percent) and scoring chances by 11 points (57 percent).
Seriously, Simon raises Sheahan’s and Grant’s numbers from terrible to impressive.
Yet Simon has earned some scorn in the public arena because he has just 11 points (4g, 7a) in 22 games, which is a 41 point pace. However, the Penguins are unswayed by exterior sentiments.
“Dominik is a good player. He’s got great offensive instincts. His best strengths are in the traffic,” said Sullivan. When you look at (Crosby’s) game, at (Guentzel’s) game, those guys thrive in that area. And so that’s one more guy that is really good in the traffic.”
Simon’s overall advanced analytics are positive: 57 percent Corsi, 61 percent of the scoring chances, 62 percent of the high-danger chances and most importantly, 63 percent of the goals scored.
In other words, the Penguins are better off with Simon on the ice. Simon and fellow young winger Daniel Sprong signed the same two-year, $1.5 million dollar contract this summer. But Simon is making his look like a black-Friday bargain.
“He plays with a lot of courage. He’s elusive in tight space,” Sullivan’s praise continued. “And he has the vision and the puck skills to be able to play that give and go game.”
Simon does indeed have vision and courage. Several of his assists this season have come after winning a puck battle on the end wall and making a nifty pass to a teammate crashing the slot. Simon is also dogged in puck pursuit and can be like a rugby rugger who catches and burrows beneath the pile to win the loose puck.
Those small victories extend possession and create scoring chances. They also deny those things to opponents.
“He sees the ice really well. He can play that give and go game down underneath the hash marks and below the goal line when there’s a lot of traffic,” Sullivan explained.
Perhaps some of the scorn directed toward Simon will ease up as the winger’s skills continue to shine and the numbers pile up. Simon does not appear to be a natural goal scorer. Instead, he’s a playmaker and gritty winger. But a player making just $750,000 who scores between 40 and 50 points, can effectively play with Sidney Crosby and elevates the centers who often treat the puck like a hot potato is a keeper.
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