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‘Wild Man’ Mark Friedman Brings Spark, Sullivan Opens Door to Stick in Lineup

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Pittsburgh Penguins Mark Friedman

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.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Chris R
Chris R
2 months ago

Do not trade Friedman; he could be highly useful. Use him against the Hurricanes. Their game is tight as hell and they’re speedier than the Pens; he’ll bring a much-needed element to disrupt their game. The Hurricanes, the Panthers, and possibly the Flames if they can maintain their level of play into the playoffs are (to me) the biggest threats. The Penguins need to find a way to solve Carolina or they’re going to get consistently outplayed. Tonight would be the perfect opportunity to see what Friedman can contribute toward reaching that goal.

Dave Heyl
Dave Heyl
2 months ago

I would rather see what we have in WBS in the next 20 some games than trade for a solution giving away assets. There is size, there is speed however because Sully doesn’t have first handle daily contact he has no trust. The last cup was an infusion of youth without experience. Tired of all the hype of what a trade can bring. The primary need is someone to clear the clogged front of the net during playoffs!

Fredrick
Fredrick
2 months ago

I feel like he makes someone like Pettersson expendable at the deadline.

Dean
Dean
2 months ago

You don’t touch the defense if you want to win now. This has been the best group we have had for years.

McGinn being out two weeks opens some chances to see more from WBS. Puutsy was great. The only line that didn’t look good was Malkin’s.

ERod has to sit. The empty netter isn’t going to change how he plays.

Nick
Nick
2 months ago

With the way Friedman is playing and PO knocking on the door, someone on the left side is certainly expendable for some help up front.

Ethan
Ethan
2 months ago
Reply to  Nick

Disagree. Injuries happen and Pens have had long run with pretty healthy D-corps. Don’t forget last season when rash of injuries hobbled Pens D so bad they almost laced up the Zamboni driver. Only deal someone like the Dragon for forward if you are ALSO getting solid or rental-type Dman back before deadline. Then P.O. competes for regular spot at start of camp and slides in as needed this season.

Katz
Katz
2 months ago

Yes finally . Better late than never. Sullivan either looked in the mirror or had a nice meeting with upper management. Sitting Simon, imo was a big mistake allowing him to come back. Not because I don’t like Simon but because it said Sullivan was going Ground Hog Day and if it continued yes , another First Round loss was almost guaranteed. Friedman sat and sat. Keep Puustinen in the lineup and move him up to more minutes. What’s the downside? The upside is well worth the try. Bring O’Connor in. The new Sullivan , if it’s Back to the… Read more »

Paul
Paul
2 months ago

Gimme some Boeser, Manson and Deslauriers, HexBurke. And if you move some combination of Pettersson, Marino, Kapanen, Simon, Zucker and ZAR in return, that’s fine with me, too.

Last edited 2 months ago by Paul
Katz
Katz
2 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Don’t think Simon has any trade value. Zucker contract snd production don’t match he’s difficult to move w/o retaining salary and that’s a no go. Kapanen has perhaps one interested party but unlikely . Maybe waive him to free up space if he cannot be moved and continues to add ziltch .

Pettersson has value. ZAR is a goal scoring repellent unable to score only a defensive player and they are as common as droppings in a dog park. The CAP is cruel when you give away picks and prospects for Brassards and Kapanens.

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
2 months ago
Reply to  Katz

Agreed. It’s nice to wish for certain players but you have to figure out how to do it. That’s why Kap has to go for cap space. Who’s going to take ZAR and Simon? I think Pettersson is the defenseman to go, if one does. Gotta give something up to get something. And you can’t simply trade a pick for a player because you need cap space to do it. (They should give Zucker the Kucherov treatment.)

Marc Badger
Marc Badger
2 months ago

FRIEDS RIPPED IT!!! Brought me off the couch. I always enjoy when #52 is in the lineup; he even had positive impacts last year. After this second showing, can he really come out over say, Ruhwedel?

But hey, Penguins defensemen have entered the trade deadline rumor mill already.

Frank
Frank
2 months ago

I will be curious to see how the Friedman story plays out here. He is sort of a novelty here and as a result fun to watch. As long as he does not end up being a penalty magnet for refs it should work out. Of course as he is an exception to Black and Gold history he stands out like a sore thumb. But . .. you have to know Sully keeps the shortest of short leashes on guys like this and the first time he costs them a game or shorthanded issues he will be joining Kaspari and… Read more »

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