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Kingerski: Make Room for Evan Rodrigues, Put Others on Notice

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Pittsburgh Penguins. Evan Rodrigues
Pittsburgh Penguins' Evan Rodrigues (9) celebrates his goal against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Right wing, left wing. Second-line center. Fourth-line center. Evan Rodrigues has filled more roles in 30 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins than most players will in five years. The player that head coach Mike Sullivan termed his Swiss Army knife isn’t just filling roles until others return from the injured list. No, with opportunity and confidence, Rodrigues is shattering expectations, and he’s done it well enough that he’s forcing Sullivan to rethink his lineup when everyone gets healthy.

Do you remember everyone else? Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, and Jake Guentzel.

Rodrigues’ ability to get shots on net and create scoring chances from the left wing, alongside Sidney Crosby, introduces another interesting potential. Rodrigues is a righty, and Crosby is known to love right-handed right-wingers, but Rust will eventually get back into the lineup.

In the last few weeks, Rodrigues has played on both sides of Crosby, giving us a peek into what is possible. Is LW different from the RW with Crosby?

“Kind of the same. I don’t know. I feel like we–as a unit–on rushes, we crisscross a lot, so sometimes I still end up on the right side. I think for me when he has a puck entering the zone, I might be more of a shooter,” Rodrigues responded to PHN on Friday. ” You know, being on my off wing–being able to one time a puck from there–I think that’s kind of maybe the only difference other than that we’re just playing, trying to find each other, you know, get open for each other. I think each game we get more and more chemistry.”

Rodrigues has not been shy about shooting. He had nine shots on Friday. He had 12 shots against Montreal last week. We’ll omit the snoozer in New Jersey on Sunday night. There’s just something about Newark or the Prudential Center that saps the life from the Penguins game.

In a profession that rewards production, Rodrigues is earning his keep. And that can’t be said for all of the Penguins top-six wingers. Enter Jason Zucker and Kasperi Kapanen. Both are more often absent from the score sheet than included, and Rodrigues is outplaying both.

“I think he’s done fine on the left wing. You know, he’s a guy that he can play every forward position and has in his whole time since he’s been (with the) Pittsburgh Penguins. He does it very effectively,” Sullivan said. “I think the reason for that is because he has good instincts, and he has good hockey sense, and he has the skill sets to be able to adjust from his strong side to his off-side.”

Kapanen has been dropped in the lineup several times over the past couple of weeks as he tests Sullivan’s patience. The dynamic Finnish winger has just 16 points (7-9-16) in 30 games, and most of the points have come in clumps.

He was again demoted on Sunday night to third-line duty, though the word “demotion” is unfair to third-line center Teddy Blueger, who was the best Penguins forward.

Kapanen’s season mirrors his follow up to his 20-goal rookie season in Toronto when he slumped to just 13 goals and found himself regularly sleeping in coach Mike Babcock’s doghouse.

Perhaps Evgeni Malkin’s return will spark Kapanen. If not, Rodrigues is waiting for the opportunity.

Rodrigues on the left wing presents some interesting potentials for Sullivan. Especially with Jason Zucker disappearing into the ether. Zucker has 10 points in 30 games. For armchair GMs who were happy to trade him, or this writer who placed him high on the Penguins trade bait list, his production only feeds into that potential.

But who saw this coming? Could Evan Rodrigues be the player who makes Zucker expendable?

“I think Evan has had a really solid start to this season. He certainly has earned every opportunity he’s been given to this point, and he’s been one of our top performers, quite honestly,” Sullivan said. “And so as we start to get a healthy lineup, he has certainly made the discussion–from a line combination standpoint–interesting from our standpoint, a coaching staff standpoint, and we’ll continue to have those discussions moving forward. The way Evan has performed to this point, he’s made a really strong case for himself.”

There’s something about an underdog we can all get behind. Rodrigues has been a depth forward for most of his six-year career. The Penguins didn’t give him a qualifying offer in 2020 but traded his rights to Toronto in the Kasperi Kapanen deal. The Penguins later signed him to a minimum-salary one-year deal. They signed him to a slightly higher one-year, $1 million deal last summer.

Depth. Versatility. That was expected. Not this. 

If you parse Sullivan’s answer just a bit, he said Rodrigues has a solid start to the season. Yep, many players have had an excellent first half of the season. The All-Star game annually had a couple of players who never returned.

Confidence waning, games get tougher, injuries and the hockey gods can all play a role in the crash back to earth, but there’s something more to Rodrigues’ game. The little toe drags to the slot, digging on the wall, and the ability to dish the puck to create scoring chances say this is probably legit and not a flash. He may not be a 65-point player, but a 50-point contributor would put him ahead of Kapanen and Zucker.

There’s also the matter of Bryan Rust, who is an unrestricted free agent next summer, and it appears he will test the market. PHN can confirm the team and player discussed a new contract but didn’t find common ground and tabled further discussions.

If the Penguins choose to keep the full boat, it seems Evan Rodrigues will have guaranteed space next season, but it’s this season that’s we’re covering. The way things are shaping up, Rodrigues is outplaying both Kapanen and Zucker. Perhaps the Penguins will have a really expensive third line, or perhaps it’s time to revisit the Pittsburgh Penguins trade bait list.

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Cal
Cal
7 months ago

ERod is playing great right now but I’m going to wait this one out before I go to the full bore sign him for 5×5 mil camp. One great thing about him is that he is not afraid to shoot the puck! He fits in well wherever he has been asked this year. Great surprise for the team.

BIG B
BIG B
7 months ago
Reply to  Cal

You are waiting this one out, Nice to meet you GMRH. Nobody is giving him 5×5 if he gets as high as 30 goals and 60 points.

Cal
Cal
7 months ago
Reply to  BIG B

Context son, context.

Jay95
Jay95
7 months ago
Reply to  Cal

I’m thinking he’ll be closer to a 3 mil contract for 2-3 years based on past performances. And, at that cap hit, I think he’ll be a value. In the past I’ve liked his speed and shot. I’ve never noticed the little things that he does with his hands and edges that give him extra time and space until this season, and some of last.

The fact that he started his career in Buffalo and they gave up on him makes me think that he’ll continue to improve lol. That’s their luck.

Rob
Rob
7 months ago

Erod is playing great,but there is still a lot of games to be played. There are other players who have overstayed their welcomes. Give Kappy a chance to see if he and Geno have the same chemistry as last season. If not, let him walk. Zucker has never fit in with any line. He really needs to go. Trade him by any means unless it means eating salary. Rusty has priced himself out of the penguins price range already so they can get something for him now or let him walk.

Jay95
Jay95
7 months ago
Reply to  Rob

I feel like Kapanen is a guy that they’ll keep around, but his next contract may take a hit. What was ironic last night is that as soon as he got put on a line that’s more straight forward, he almost scores lol. Maybe he is what he is…a super talented player without that killer instinct. So, a good 3rd line depth option with offensive upside. I have no idea what’s up with Zucker. His best games were next to Sid. But, you’re not taking Jake off of his wing. And, the right wing is either going to be Rust… Read more »

Fredrick
Fredrick
7 months ago

I think you shop someone like Rust if you can get an upgrade somewhere. Preferably defensively. I think we need to Ship out Zuck and Matheson and look for an upgrade in the top 4, or an upgrade defensively. I am still hoping we grab E. Kane (half salary retained) and a pick.

Jay95
Jay95
7 months ago
Reply to  Fredrick

I’m going to be the only person who gives the E Kane an up vote. He will be coming in at 3.5 and is the missing piece ON the ice. That room is so strong that they dealt with Kessel and had no issues until Malkin was solely put in the middle between Phil and Sully. The Pens core are hard workers, and also have personality. Add Jake, Zucks (not going anywhere as of now), Carter, Dumo, Matheson (also not going anywhere) to the big 3…Kane would either fit in or be forced to retire if he can’t. I’m also… Read more »

AnthonyB
AnthonyB
7 months ago
Reply to  Jay95

I’m a huge Zucker fan and his biggest cheerleader, but it’s not working. I would ship him to San Jose for Kane and save the 2 mil for deadline upgrades.

Jay95
Jay95
7 months ago
Reply to  AnthonyB

It’s not working out well, but I think that makes him harder to trade. I believe it would take Rust to get San Jose to hold half of Kane’s salary. There will be other teams interested. Just a gut feeling on that.

I think with Zucker we just have to hope that he regresses to his norm with shooting percentage. If he does, and can mesh with any of our centers, he’ll be more tradable at the deadline. Or, even better, play up to his contract and sticks around as a core peace. Maybe.

Last edited 7 months ago by Jay95
Fredrick
Fredrick
7 months ago
Reply to  Jay95

I disagree. All the teams may be interested, but this doesn’t mean they are putting in trade offers for him. Everyone knows how Kane plays on the ice, but his trade value is still low. All the teams interested are interested for cap dumping reasons (they are trying to ship off a large contract for Kane with money retained). So Zucker (someone who should be able to do better Stat wise with a change of scenery) should easily be able to net Kane. Plus Zucker is a good locker room guy and a top 6 winger for San Jose if… Read more »

Jay95
Jay95
7 months ago
Reply to  Fredrick

Don’t get me wrong. I’m hoping that you’re right. But, with Rust being an oft injured UFA set to make 5 – 5.5 mil per season, I don’t know if he could pull more than Kane. I also wonder how many teams are willing to eat Zuck’s salary with his current production. I mean, if they scout him for a few games, and look at his analytics, they’ll see that he’s definitely still a player that is a top six guy. But, they can easily use his contact and production to attempt to buy low.

trackback

[…] Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now: The play of Pittsburgh Penguins winger Evan Rodrigues has bumped Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker down within the lineup. Zucker solely has 10 factors in 30 video games this season and will turn into expendable once they get wholesome. […]

trackback

[…] Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now: The play of Pittsburgh Penguins winger Evan Rodrigues has bumped Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker down in the lineup. Zucker only has 10 points in 30 games this season and could become expendable when they get healthy. […]

trackback

[…] Pittsburgh: Evan Rodriguez has such versatility that he has become indispensable in Pittsburgh  […]

trackback

[…] Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now: The play of Pittsburgh Penguins winger Evan Rodrigues has bumped Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker down within the lineup. Zucker solely has 10 factors in 30 video games this season and will grow to be expendable after they get wholesome. […]

trackback

[…] Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now: The play of Pittsburgh Penguins winger Evan Rodrigues has bumped Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker down within the lineup. Zucker solely has 10 factors in 30 video games this season and will turn into expendable after they get wholesome. […]

trackback

[…] Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now: The play of Pittsburgh Penguins winger Evan Rodrigues has bumped Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker down in the lineup. Zucker only has 10 points in 30 games this season and could become expendable when they get healthy. […]

trackback

[…] Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now: The play of Pittsburgh Penguins winger Evan Rodrigues has bumped Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker down in the lineup. Zucker only has 10 points in 30 games this season and could become expendable when they get healthy. […]

trackback

[…] Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now: The play of Pittsburgh Penguins winger Evan Rodrigues has bumped Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker down within the lineup. Zucker solely has 10 factors in 30 video games this season and will turn out to be expendable once they get wholesome. […]

trackback

[…] Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now: The play of Pittsburgh Penguins winger Evan Rodrigues has bumped Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker down in the lineup. Zucker only has 10 points in 30 games this season and could become expendable when they get healthy. […]

trackback

[…] a number of Penguins have had good starts to the 2021-22 season, the one who deserves a ton of recognition is Evan Rodrigues. The 28-year-old came into the season with a career-high 29 points and is on pace […]

trackback

[…] a number of Penguins have had good starts to the 2021-22 season, the one who deserves a ton of recognition is Evan Rodrigues. The 28-year-old came into the season with a career-high 29 points and is on pace […]

trackback

[…] many Penguins have a good start to the 2021-22 season, Who deserves a lot of recognition It’s Evan Rodriguez. The 28-year-old entered this season with a career-high 29 points and is […]

trackback

[…] the emergence of Evan Rodrigues, Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now wonders if bumping Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker down in the lineup has made either player […]

trackback

[…] the emergence of Evan Rodrigues, Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now wonders if bumping Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker down in the lineup has made either player […]

trackback

[…] the emergence of Evan Rodrigues, Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now wonders if bumping Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker down in the lineup has made either player […]

Mike
Mike
7 months ago

Bad thing is he shoots when he should pass. This is a little bit of fools goal. I give him credit he has stepped up and played great but going forward we need Rust, Zucker and
Kappy hitting on all cylinders.

Last edited 7 months ago by Mike
trackback

[…] a number of Penguins have had good starts to the 2021-22 season, the one who deserves a ton of recognition is Evan Rodrigues. The 28-year-old came into the season with a career-high 29 points and is on pace […]

trackback

[…] the emergence of Evan Rodrigues, Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now wonders if bumping Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker down in the lineup has made […]

trackback

[…] the emergence of Evan Rodrigues, Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now wonders if bumpingKasperi KapanenandJason Zuckerdown in the lineup has made either player someone […]

trackback

[…] PITTSBURGH HOCKEY NOW: Dan Kingerski observes the solid performance of Evan Rodrigues this season could force Penguins coach Mike Sullivan to rethink his lineup when everyone is fully healthy… Kingerski wondered if Rodrigue’s play could make Jason Zucker expendable. The 29-year-old left winger has 11 points in 30 games. […]

trackback

[…] Penguins also have an aging roster and could look to move veterans at the deadline or draft. Dan Kingerski believes the emergence of Evan Rodrigues will impact Kaperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker. Is it […]

trackback

[…] with most breakout players, a little trust goes a long way, and Rodrigues has earned that and more with his play this season. Head coach Mike Sullivan is […]

trackback

[…] with most breakout players, a little trust goes a long way, and Rodrigues has earned that and more with his play this season. Head coach Mike Sullivan is […]

trackback

[…] with most breakout players, a little trust goes a long way, and Rodrigues has earned that and more with his play this season. Head coach Mike Sullivan is […]

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