Bryan Rust smirked when us grimey media folk brought up Mark Friedman. Jeff Carter smiled before getting into his description. Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan opened the door with a cautionary note that Friedman could stick in the lineup, even when the entirety of the blue line is healthy.
Friday night, Friedman was one of the catalysts of the Penguins’ 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights at PPG Paints Arena. Friedman had three hits, enticed Vegas center Willian Carrier to try to rip his head off, and Friedman scored the game-winning goal on the rush with a pretty top-shelf wrister.
Rust called Friedman “a wild man.” Rust meant it in the very best way.
Carter said, “he’s always into something.”
For his part, Friedman seemed a little embarrassed by the Rust’s compliment. I asked.
“I don’t know if it’s the greatest reputation to have, but if it’s something I can do for the team and brings that energy, then so be it. Whatever they want me to do, and I’ll do it, so it doesn’t matter,” Friedman said a little sheepishly. “And hopefully, ‘wildman’ leaves, I’m not a fan of that name, but I’m just doing my thing out there and just having fun playing hockey.”
Friedman, 26, has not yet established himself as an NHL regular. Last season, the defense-starved Philadelphia Flyers tried to slip him through waivers, but brand new Penguins GM Ron Hextall pounced. Friedman will forever be the answer to the trivia question, “what was Ron Hextall’s first move as Penguins GM?”
The Penguins claimed Friedman on waivers, and Friedman played two games before being injured in a wild game against…the Philadelphia Flyers. He scored a goal, was boarded, and eventually injured when he tried to slam center Nolan Patrick at center ice but got the worst of the collision.
Pittsburgh Penguins Reaction
Friday night was just Friedman’s 34th career NHL game and his first game-winning goal.
Rust lit up when talking about Friedman. After Friedman’s response, I felt terrible asking about it, but you don’t get to pick your nickname, at least not in hockey.
“So he’s a wild man. He works extremely hard, gets under the other team’s skin, brings that kind of swagger, that attitude,” Rust said. “And he’s not afraid to go against the biggest guy and give a cross-check or get in a battle. You saw that with Carrier in the second period. I think that kind of attitude and all that’s–it’s really fun to have that guy in the locker room.”
If Friedman doesn’t like “wild man,” perhaps he’ll appreciate the compliment at the end. His teammates appreciate him more than just a passing nod.
Jeff Carter gave an extended answer:
“I think that’s probably a good word to use (spark). His personality is just kind of go, go, go. And I think you see that on the ice. He always seems to be involved in something. He’s aggressive. He’s not shying away from anybody. He’ll go with anybody,” Carter said. “You know, he makes smart, easy plays, and he reads the game well, and he knows when to jump in and when not to. I think his goal was a prime example of using his speed to get up the ice and heckuva shot.
So I think he brings an element of that feistiness and, you know, that grit to our back end in which is good.”
Carter chuckled when asked, too.
The players clearly enjoy Friedman on their side.
Pittsburgh Penguins Situation
There is no question the boys are enjoying his presence. Last week, Sullivan offered more warning than praise when asked about Friedman. Sullivan wants his defenseman to stay on the good side of wild and fears Friedman going over the line. Last week, the word Sullivan used was “discipline.”
Sullivan again publicly cautioned Friedman to use the dark arts properly but swung the door wide open for Friedman to stick in the lineup, too.
“He does bring that dimension. There’s no question, that’s part of his DNA, and he could be a very effective defenseman in that capacity. And it’s important for Freeds–he and I have had this conversation–on when and how, and he utilizes that attribute,” Sullivan said. “And as far as ‘can he stay in the lineup,’ the answer is yes. I think we have internal competition throughout our roster. We’re always having conversations on which group of players at all the respective positions gives us the best chance to win.
And, you know, performance matters.”
The hockey coach to English translation says Friedman has a lot to offer, but Sullivan doesn’t yet trust Friedman not to take penalties or get too aggressive with his offensive game.
Perhaps that’s why Mark Friedman was uncomfortable with “wild man,” he doesn’t want to be seen as wild, likely the very thing that makes Sullivan a bit hesitant to put him in the lineup every night.
PHN also asked Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall on Friday morning if he thought the team needed more energy or toughness. The subtext was the looming NHL trade deadline, but perhaps his desire for more energy could apply to Friedman, too. The defenseman wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s burning the jets to stay in the lineup.
And literally throwing everything against the wall, too.
Mark Friedman Getting a Shot?
If it’s not the Penguins who give him a shot, there have been plenty of scouts trolling the hallways at PPG Paints Arena, too. Or, perhaps Hextall uses his surplus at left-defense to acquire some middle-six scoring, and a spot opens up.
“…just doing my thing out there and just have fun playing hockey,” Friedman concluded.
And it has been fun to watch, too. The numbers might not work in Friedman’s favor to play on Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes, but maybe the style of game will. Carolina is fast, and they got to defenseman Marcus Pettersson a few times in Carolina’s 4-3 win last weekend.
It’s unlikely Sullivan keeps Friedman in the lineup, but “performance matters.” Friedman brings energy and physicality, and the Penguins could use more.
At this rate, if not now, soon Mark Friedman will have a regular shift in the NHL.