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Sullivan Explains Why Size Isn’t Big Deal for Penguins



Mike Sullivan 2023 draft

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There’s not much question that the Pittsburgh Penguins became a better team when they acquired Reilly Smith from Vegas Wednesday.

It’s also clear that they didn’t become a bigger one.

For all that Smith can contribute — and make no mistake, that is a lot, in a lot of ways — one thing that he won’t upgrade is their vital statistics.

Smith checks in at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds; that’s the same height as the average Penguins player in 2023-24, and a few pounds lighter. Which is significant, because the Penguins were among the NHL’s lightest teams last season.

How much size and a relative lack of physicality had to do with the Penguins sitting out the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2006 can be debated — and has been, at length — and it has been noted that clubs that play a “heavy” game have had considerable postseason success in recent years.

Mike Sullivan surely is aware of that — the man, after all, is quite a student of the game — but he vigorously rejected the idea that the Penguins need to bulk up because doing so has paid off for the Golden Knights, among others.

The Penguins won Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 with a style that stressed skating and skill, and Sullivan said Wednesday there is no need for them to stray from that formula, even as much as of the league tries to go in a different direction.

And while his perspective might not be shared by a significant portion of the fan base, Sullivan was adamant about sticking with what has worked in the past. And which he contends allows the Pittsburgh Penguins’ most important players to be at their most productive.

“There are different types of identities that bring teams success,” he said. “I think the most important thing is that we look at the people we have — and our core group is the most important, because they’re our difference-makers, they’re the engine that I think our team runs on — so we have to build a game plan that sets them up for success.

“If we were to try to copy the Stanley Cup champion every single year, we would be all over the map with the style of play, a philosophy of play, an identity of what Penguins hockey actually looks like. I think it’s more important that we’re true to our group.

“And our group has certainly shown — and there’s plenty of evidence — that we can be a competitive team when we surround these guys with the right people and we put a game on the ice that sets us up for success.”