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PHN Blog: Penguins Narratives & Realities, Mike Sullivan Won’t Play Kids?

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Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan

DETROIT — The Pittsburgh Penguins organization and the WBS Penguins team lost Radim Zohorna on waivers Monday, as the Calgary Flames snapped up the 6-foot-6 Czechian forward with 10 points in 25 career NHL games over two seasons.

Cue the Mike Sullivan hates young players narrative.

Please ignore that Jake Guentzel, Marcus Pettersson, John Marino, and Teddy Blueger earned consistent NHL sweaters in the past few years despite being under 25. Drew O’Connor, Zohorna, and P.O Joseph have received significant playing time and chances to earn more. In this camp, Ty Smith, 22, has been given a prime chance to win the third-pairing position.

Broom all of that under the rug. It doesn’t fit the anger that the Penguins let another young fan favorite slip through their fingers or put him in the AHL.

Just play them! They need playing time!

I hear it nearly every day, “If only they would play the kids, they would get better. The Pittsburgh Penguins would be better .. and Fun Dip would sprinkle from the ceilings.”

Ok, I added the Fun Dip part.

But that would be cool.

Those who throw this anti-prospect narrative are missing one vital piece of information — the players are still playing hockey, even if they’re not in Pittsburgh. Just because we don’t see them every day, don’t be fooled into thinking the organization doesn’t have close eyes on them.

And, there are far more things considered than potential when putting together an NHL team.

Look, there’s no denying Radim Zohorna, Drew O’Connor, and Drake Caggiula had better training camps and preseasons than Josh Archibald. The significant difference between Archibald and Zohorna, as it directly concerns the Penguins lineup, is penalty killing.

I’m at a little bit of a loss to explain Caggiula, but he’s 28-years-old.

Working against Zohorna was the primary factor that he doesn’t kill penalties and didn’t show a North American game until this preseason. Until a few weeks ago, his tape showed a perimeter player who could get pushed off the puck too easily. Zohorna was not hard to play against. He made great strides over the last few weeks, but the Penguins’ bottom six is short on penalty killers and long on players who can chip in 10 goals.

You didn’t expect them to waive Danton Heinen for Zohorna, did you?

You don’t really believe that Sullivan looks first at a player’s birth certificate before deciding on opportunity and playing time?

Like everyone, including Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving, I was impressed with Zohorna. He wasn’t a game changer or show stopper, but if the Penguins needed a center or third-line winger, Zohorna showed he could fit the role.

But he’s not a better NHL center than Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter, or Teddy Blueger. He may not be better than Drew O’Connor. Ryan Poehling has also begun to show he could flourish in Mike Sullivan’s system.

Sam Poulin is also readying himself quickly, too.

Poulin and O’Connor are still waivers exempt and can be recalled as needed (or as the salary cap permits).

It was a numbers game. Zohorna showed he could play in the NHL and was getting better, but he wasn’t one of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ best 13 options. Maybe No. 14?

That’s why Calgary snagged him. They need some middle-six talent to go with their summer additions or a fourth-line center. And Zohorna might fill either role.

Or neither.

We don’t know if he’ll continue to improve or if we saw his best.

But only the WBS Penguins will be different after losing Zohorna.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and the stubborn narrative remain unchanged.

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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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Katz is Dumb
Katz is Dumb
1 month ago

Great article Dan. I was dumbfounded reading the comments on the waiver claim article.

Logan
Logan
1 month ago

I would much rather try Drake Caggiula than Zohorna at this point as he was very impressive in the preseason and had a scoring touch.

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
1 month ago

Zohorna never impressed me until recently, big body that never used it. If he played like Brian Boyle it would have been fine, unfortunately none of that rubbed off on him. Not a big loss in my opinion. Next to go is POJ.

RG@GBP
RG@GBP
1 month ago

What does that do to the salary cap situation?

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
1 month ago

Mmmm… Fun Dip.

Flori
Flori
1 month ago

Sullivan is like a German soccer coach….

An old coach…

Rick
Rick
1 month ago

Dan, According to Elite Prospects, as of right now, our Penguins are being projected to be the 2nd oldest team in the league at 29.61 years of age, the fans that are angry over the loss of Zohorna to the waiver wire are understandably angry and their complaint over this organization choosing to dig up fossils over granting youth its day, justified. Any argument to the contrary is disingenuous. Furthermore the argument that Zohorna can’t play PK is similarly lacking. All that can be said of Zohorna is that he has not really played PK. Combining Preseason, Regular Season, and… Read more »

Pepper
Pepper
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick

Yep. And by that same site they are one of the lightest teams as well. They lost a big young guy for nothing. No chance to try PK or develop a physical game. He, like Rodriguez and ZAR, went to a legit Cup competitor. Good enough for them but not for the 5 straight first round losses Pens, who also have almost no legit NHL prospects? This is a small, old team by nhl standards. One of the oldest and one of the smallest. Those are just numerical facts. Old also means slow in sports. Again, just a fact. Try… Read more »

Rick
Rick
1 month ago
Reply to  Pepper

agree 100%

Pens' Igloo
Pens' Igloo
1 month ago
Reply to  Pepper

Dude, Carter had 4 goals in the playoffs last year

Rick
Rick
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

There are a lot of things that I wish were true, but the wishing doesn’t make it so. The title of your essay was “Penguins Narratives & Realities, Mike Sullivan Won’t Play Kids?” I stated the reality, according to elite prospects, the Penguins average roster age (not to be confused with who actually gets the ice time) will be 2nd oldest in the league this coming season, if the rosters of the teams hold to what is expected. Let me add that despite the injury bug and a roster liberally sprinkled with WBS players subbing for injured players (35 players… Read more »

Rick
Rick
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Sorry, I was rushed for time but also I meant to add by successfully challenging evidence I presented when dismissing disingenuous.

Dean
Dean
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

actually it does most of the time. whether this is one of those cases is a matter of debate and opinion.

Rick
Rick
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Correlation may not equal causation but it is non-sequitur in this instance. The team is old, this is not a question of correlation it is simply a fact. And the fans that are upset over the loss of another prospect for absolutely nothing do have every right to be angry, since it is their money that buys the tickets and merchandise. The only arguments that would suffice would be to counter that the team is not going to be that old or that somehow or another enough teams will age between now and opening night. And in the case of… Read more »

Ujermaikan
Ujermaikan
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick

Honestly if you’d rather have Zohorna playing over McGinn or Heinen then I’m not sure you know what you’re talking about. If Zohorna had showed he could be successful on a PK unit in practices/camp he would have been given more time there when the opportunity arose. I liked him but he didn’t exactly light the NHL on fire when he was in games. Have you ever thought these younger players aren’t being given ice time because there’s something the coaching staff saw that made them feel they aren’t ready? Or that we have better options above them on the… Read more »

Rick
Rick
1 month ago
Reply to  Ujermaikan

First this isn’t a question of the youngest player making the team, Zohorna is 26. The youngest LW not eligible for the minors is Raivis Ansons at age 20. Second, as for the team’s scouts and other staff, not a single player drafted since Sullivan has coached the team has made it to the Penguins roster. Calen Addison and Filip Gustavsson have shots to play in Minn but none has been given a shot for Pgh. That should cause at least reasonable doubt in anyone’s mind willing to look about our scouting departments skill at assessing talent. And furthermore, please… Read more »

cacastine
cacastine
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick

Has it occurred to you that he hasn’t been given PK time because his game doesn’t suit it?

If this Pens team makes you “extremely angered” seek help. One of the best teams in the league every year. Get a grip.

Rick
Rick
1 month ago
Reply to  cacastine

There are a lot of possibilities as to why Zohorna hasn’t been given PK time and “his game” not suiting it is only 1 and not necessarily one whose probability is any better than any of the others. His size alone, with his reach would suggest that he could be at least adequate. All that can logically be said about Zohorna’s PK is that he has only played 8s. Without a body of work as evidence anything else is shear speculation. To suggest that Zohorna can’t play PK to justify the waste of this asset is just excuse making. I… Read more »

Cal
Cal
1 month ago

Losing him for nothing seems like poor asset management. Unless they tried to deal him and couldn’t find anyone to take him, they must have known Zoho had a good chance of being scooped up for nothing on waivers.

James
James
1 month ago

I can understand people being upset at losing Zohorna to waivers. Seemed like a decent depth forward to me.

Im going to feel especially bad for these people when they get to watch PO Joseph go to another team for nothing as well.

Ujermaikan
Ujermaikan
1 month ago
Reply to  James

I’m definitely not happy about it either. I was actually pretty annoyed seeing it, but when there wasn’t another trade to clear some cap a while ago I sort of saw this coming. People really are overreacting though tbh, I liked Zohorna but he wasn’t anywhere close to a top-tier prospect or something.

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Dean
Dean
1 month ago

IMO, they should have waived McGinn, not because he is a bad player, but because of a bad contract. That is a win-win opportunity. The pens have 3 or 4 players that are $2M a year cheaper whose performance would not be that much below McGinn’s.

The difference between McGinn and O’Conner, Halander, Poulin, and maybe Legare could be erased quicky with some NHL experience. Not to mention Caggiula.

The loss of Zahorn was unnecessary, that is the frustration.

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Uros
Uros
1 month ago

I’m shocked to see all this for a player who’s 26 and still hasn’t shown anything that would earn him a full time job at the NHL level. If he were 22, I could understand, but he is not. It should be another Daniel Sprong on a PTO somewhere. I’d really like to hear where all these prospects that are being waived are right now. All ruined by Sully so much that they forgot how to play and never made it anywhere else? It’s OK to want youth and prospects for the future, but Z was neither young or a… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Uros
Rob
Rob
1 month ago

Its hilarious seeing multiple paragraphs typed over losing an inexperienced and unproven fringe nhl player with the same people complaining about keeping proven and legit NHL players. Watch minor league hockey or college hockey if you don’t like NHL talent. Just a suggestion.

Pete
Pete
1 month ago

Take Big Z over Kap any day and twice on game day!

cacastine
cacastine
1 month ago
Reply to  Pete

Why?

Pete
Pete
1 month ago
Reply to  cacastine

Because after watching Kap play he is practically invisible. Has no heart to scrap for the puck. I believe Z will use his size and go for the puck. Calgary will probably be happy while PHN continues to spew the BS of Kap’s enormous “upside” potential. Yeah, right.

cacastine
cacastine
1 month ago

As a former Athletic subscriber, refreshing to see objective hockey analysis here not puff pieces and emotional reactions to every little event. The idea of Zohorna, and many of our call ups, is always a lot better than the actuality.

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