If only he lit the lamp a few more times. Pittsburgh Penguins winger Dominik Simon’s season is more like a stained glass window than a portrait. Pending what you want to see and which way the light shines through, the colors change. Analytics, coaches and the organization had praise and high praise for Simon, while fans lined up to toss eggs and rotten produce in the town square. But Penguins fans had a lot of tomatoes to hurl this season.
Simon, 24, completed his first full NHL season and even head coach Mike Sullivan admitted Simon’s scoring touch may not have developed as they expected.
In the same breath, Sullivan explained the reason Simon was a popular linemate and frequent guest of Sidney Crosby on the top line right wing.
“His lines score, and he’s usually a part of it,” Sullivan said multiple times including during the Round One debacle against the New York Islanders.
Indeed, Simon generated chances by the dozen but converted precious few himself. Simon potted only eight goals in 71 games last season. He had only 20 assists, too.
For fun, here’s a direct comparison without names: Player A posted a 54% Corsi rating, 53% goals-for, and a 54% scoring chance rate. Player B had a 55% Corsi, 56% goals-for and a 60% scoring chance rate.
Based on those metrics, Simon is the worst thing since…Carl Hagelin. Simon is player B. Hagelin in 2017-18 is player A.
An interesting comparison isn’t it? Simon had 28 points (8g, 20a) this season. Hagelin had 31 points (10g, 21a) in 2017-18 despite playing with Evgeni Malkin for most the year.
Hagelin is faster, but Simon also showed good puck retrieval and more playmaking skills. Simon also cost nearly 1/6 of Hagelin.
Last summer, the Penguins signed both Simon and prospect Daniel Sprong to two-year, $750,000 deals. Sprong didn’t have nearly the facets to his game which Simon displayed but if only Simon could finish like Sprong. Many Penguins fans undoubtedly refused to enjoy or accept Simon’s presence because the coaches wisely chose to deploy Simon and allowed Sprong to languish on the fourth line (breaking–Anaheim eventually put Sprong on the lower lines, too).
It was certainly a season of an improper, incorrect, and relentless overreaction on keyboards and in seats at PPG Paints Arena. Simon’s value should be recognized and placed in the proper context. And, as a young player, he could also continue to improve.
Dominik Simon Report Card: B-
If only his finishing ability developed at the same rate as his game, Simon would be a $5 million player. But that hasn’t arrived yet and so the Penguins are “stuck” with one of the best $750,000 players in the NHL.
That’s not a bad consolation, even as fans pull their hair out that Simon hasn’t followed Jake Guentzel’s footsteps. Not yet, anyway.
There are reasons the Penguins frequently deployed Simon beside Crosby, which have nothing to do with Simon leaving an apple on the teacher’s desk. Every Penguins center experienced an uptick in chances and possession with Simon. In some cases, it was extreme such as Riley Sheahan and Derick Brassard.
If a winger could propel Sidney Patrick Crosby to just one more scoring chance per game, that’s an extra eight goals per year.
Here’s a direct comparison. In parenthesis is the difference with Simon for each center:
Simon with Crosby: 60% Corsi (+7%). Scoring chances 62% (+7%). Expected goals for 63% (+7).
Simon with Malkin: 52% Corsi (+3). Scoring chances 63% (+10%). Expected goals for 54%. (+3%)
Simon with Bjugstad: 59% Corsi (+14%). Scoring chances 63% (+13%). Expected goals for 67% (+22%)
Imagine making Sidney Crosby 7% better. All stats from NaturalStatTrick.com.
Simon’s puck retrieval, playmaking and ability to move the play forward are assets for the Penguins. His abilities to positively affect the play are not even a little bit in doubt.
However, his lack of presence in the slot and the net front, coupled with his rushed delivery on his own scoring chances led to low numbers. Since he’s not part of the Penguins power play or penalty kill, this is where the comparison to Hagelin falls short and why Simon only gets a B-.
When trying to finish scoring chances, Simon reminds this writer of the rookie version of Bryan Rust.
Simon could turn around the fan frustration quickly. In the meantime, fans will have to realize the positive effect without laughably ignorant insults to Sullivan and Simon.
For now, the Penguins have a spark plug who provides puck possession and scoring chances. He could become a much bigger asset, too. That’s not the worst thing in the world, is it?