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Who Are Penguins Counting on to Have ‘Bounce-back’ Seasons?

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NHL trade, Pittsburgh Penguins, Brian Dumoulin

They would, at first blush, seem to have little more in common than the Pittsburgh Penguins sweater both wear on work nights.

Part 2 of 2

One has been the Penguins’ most reliable defenseman for most of his career, a paragon of efficiency and sound decision-making.

Until last season, anyway.

The other is a forward who has shown only occasional flashes of his enormous potential, whose promise rarely has translated into the production expected when he was a first-round draft choice.

Which almost never happened in 2021-22.

So it turns out that there is at least one more thing that bonds Brian Dumoulin and Kasperi Kapanen: Both will be counted to elevate their games considerably during the season ahead.

“We think (Dumoulin) is ready to have a much better season than he had last year,” president of hockey operations Brian Burke said. “Last year, for (Dumoulin) was an off-year. That’s not being critical, because he’s a really important player for us.

“But his season last year wasn’t as good as the year before, or the year before that. We need him as a bounce-back guy. (Kapanen) has to come through, has to have a bounce-back year. Those would be two guys to watch.”

They aren’t the only ones, of course. Jason Zucker, for example, has some strong elements in his game, but has not generated the points expected of a top-six winger who has a $5.5 million salary-cap hit. His output likely will get a lot of attention during training camp and the early weeks of the regular season.

Still, it’s easy to understand why Burke focused on Dumoulin, who turns 31 today, and Kapanen.

Dumoulin long ago settled in opposite Kris Letang on the Penguins’ No. 1 defense pairing, and his defense-oriented, responsible style gives Letang the latitude to take offensive risks when opportunities arise.

Although there are nine NHL-caliber defensemen on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ roster at the moment, they do not have an obvious successor for Dumoulin in that role, so the importance of him taking his game back to its customary level is obvious.

They made a six-year contractual commitment to Letang this summer, and giving him a partner who makes it possible for Letang to fully exploit his offensive abilities enhances the chances of getting a good return on that investment.

Kapanen had a miserable showing last season, putting up 11 goals and 21 assists in 79 games. That almost mirrored his output during the lockout-shortened 2020-21 season, when he had 11 goals and 19 assists in 40 games.

The Pittsburgh Penguins had a chance to sever ties with Kapanen during the offseason, when he was a restricted free agent, but opted to give him a qualifying offer, then sign him to a two-year contract with the same cap hit ($3.2 million) as the one that expired in July.

Kapanen had an exasperating habit of curling toward the boards rather than driving to the net after carrying the puck across the blue line and, after failing to effectively settle into a niche on any line, relinquished his place in the lineup March 11 against Vegas.

Nonetheless, management believes his excellent skating and dangerous shot make him a viable candidate to perform at a top-six level. If Kapanen can do that, it will give Mike Sullivan even more possibilities for how to configure his first and second lines.

“What I like about our forward group is, the coaches have some flexibility, as far as moving players up and down and around (the lineup),” Burke said. “(Rickard) Rakell, what he provides, and what (Kapanen) can do, if he slides in, it just gives the coach some really good options.

“We are counting on (Kapanen) to have a bounce-back year. He’s a critical guy to us.”

Part 1: Why Burke believes Penguins are better than last season.

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charmaine m dawso
charmaine m dawso
24 days ago

i’ve always felt Dumoulin was under-appreciated as a defenseman and after last year’s dismal performance, i hope he returns to being the great defenseman he has been..

joe Cursi
joe Cursi
24 days ago

Unfortunately it wasn’t just last year!

Alan Smith
24 days ago

Dummo is not Orpik! Brooks took shots and gave them as well! Pens have no Ulf types and no one fears anyone in the line up! It’s all offense or nothing! Got to be the weakest defense in the contenders! Everybody has goons and size and the Pens have neither! Carolina is boring as hell but they won the conference just playing defense! Tampa is the exact same thing! I love the pens but God hope the goalies can stand on their heads and keep games close!

ric Jefferies
ric Jefferies
24 days ago
Reply to  Alan Smith

Agreed and AMEN brother !

Pens' Igloo
Pens' Igloo
24 days ago
Reply to  Alan Smith

Not sure if you were paying attention, but the Pens won their last 2 cups without Orpik. I liked Orpik when he was here, but you don’t NEED guys like that to win. The Pens’ defense is bigger, tougher and better overall than last year with Petry/Ruuta replacing Matheson/Marino. TBD if Dumoulin can bounce back or not, or whether POJ or Smith take a step forward, but there’s a lot to be optimistic about this blue line.

joe Cursi
joe Cursi
24 days ago
Reply to  Pens' Igloo

Agreed and AMEN brother! I am an Atheist so probably doesn’t count as mush as the other guys AMEN!

William Maloni
William Maloni
24 days ago

Update on Kiril Tankov’s injury, please???

William Maloni
William Maloni
24 days ago
Reply to  William Maloni

KT, reportedly, was boarded, stretchered off the ice, and is out for the season in Europe.

james e reuss
james e reuss
24 days ago

What about a move to left wing. Happy wants to curl right. From the left that I would put him in scoring position.
I know, defense. Players are better defensively on their handed side. With his shot and skating, we want to see him play offense. Look at what moving to his off wing did for Neal.

joe Cursi
joe Cursi
24 days ago
Reply to  james e reuss

He didn’t score but was shooting and going to the net in the Ranger series. I think that’s why he got the contract. I predict he will be better however I don’t know if he will ever reach the level expected when he was a first round draft pick. He is a TREMENDOUS penalty killer though. He should definitely be playing there!