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Penguins One-Timers: Internal Frustrations Grow, Dumoulin Rebound



Pittsburgh Penguins game, Kris Letang, Anthony Mantha

It is an unsettling time for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their playoff streak is in its greatest jeopardy since it began in 2006-07. Players had to be separated during a morning skate. Coach Mike Sullivan was visibly frustrated after the Penguins latest loss and the mistakes … oh those mistakes just keep coming, again and again.

Over and over.

How does a team with so much experience make so many rookie mistakes? If the Penguins knew why, they would address it. But things have felt unsettled or awkward far more than they’ve felt right this season.

The little scuffle between Teddy Blueger and Casey DeSmith last week was a bit eye-catching. That stuff doesn’t happen very often, and it may have been the first time I’ve seen it from any team in years.

Blueger joked they were “just messing around,” but he was first off the ice that day. He is NEVER the first off the ice, and in fact, he’s usually the last person off the ice for practice or skates.

Perhaps the incident was between friends, a heated moment quickly forgotten. But in the larger context of these scuffling, struggling, occasionally stinking Pittsburgh Penguins, it could also be a sign of internal frustrations with each other.

On the ice, this team is not picking each other up.

Lack of Penguins’ Development

The last player whom the Penguins drafted and developed into a steady, regularly employed top-nine forward or top-six defenseman for the team? Jake Guentzel, third-round, 2013.

Defenseman Calen Addison (2018, second-round) seems to be establishing himself in Minnesota. He was the centerpiece, with a No. 1 pick, in the Penguins’ trade for Jason Zucker in 2020.

Dominik Simon (2015) is out of the NHL. Sam Lafferty (2014) didn’t make much of a dent in Pittsburgh, but he’s getting fourth-line ice-time with the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks. Daniel Sprong (2015) couldn’t stick with the Penguins, Anaheim, or Washington, but is becoming something of a fourth-line goal scorer in Seattle.

That’s nine years since a Penguins draft pick made a career with the team.

I classify Kasper Kapanen (2014), who was drafted by the Penguins in the first round but traded a year later as a Toronto product, not a Penguins’ product. Kapanen played a total of four games in the Penguins organization before being traded.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have received exactly 13 games of NHL service from their last seven NHL drafts, none from their last three, and none from 2017’s class. Kasperi Bjorkqvist played six NHL games before returning to Finland. 2019 first-round pick Sam Poulin played three games this season, but is on a personal leave.

Brian Dumoulin, Healthy?

Last week, Brian Dumoulin kind of shrugged off my softball questions about playing better. Mike Sullivan could only say things that he thought Dumoulin was improving but not why.

Dumoulin began playing better hockey last month, about five months after surgery for a Grade 3 torn MCL.

While I couldn’t get Sullivan or Dumoulin to admit it, the timing of Dumoulin’s “reclamation” is too coincedental to be anything but health related. The recovery time for that surgery is about eight to 16 weeks.

Perhaps Dumoulin’s tires have some tread, after all. It was a matter of getting healthy or at least trusting that he was healthy. The player may not want to admit it, but that’s my best guess.

However, he’s under the microscope now. Perception doesn’t generally change without consistent and undeniable evidence, and stay-at-home defensemen don’t usually give those flashy moments.

Of course, it also helps that he’s no longer paired with Jan Rutta. That pairing should never again see the light of day, for the sake of both defensemen.

Penguins Prospects, Let’s See?

The saying is a little bit maddening because it spreads like wildfire when the Penguins are losing. Like clockwork, the volume cranks up — “call up (player, or players). They can’t be any worse. Let’s see what they can do!”


“Sullivan won’t play young players!”

If that were true, would Ty Smith have gotten a shot? P.O Joseph? Drew O’Connor didn’t seize his previous lineup opportunities, but has recently been in the lineup ahead of veterans because his play warranted it.

No, Sullivan won’t play unqualified young players.

Shockingly, they actually play hockey in the AHL. The Penguins do watch. Perhaps nothing is more misguided than chasing the panacea of a prospect called to the NHL to “see what he’s got.” The team is well aware of what players have, at what stage of their development the player is in, and what might happen on NHL ice. If the player could or would help the team, they would be in the lineup. Just because you and I haven’t seen them, don’t make the terrible assumption that the professionals, who spend all day with these issues, haven’t.

The team has seen what they’ve got.

Players don’t magically get better because they’re in the NHL.

That the Penguins do not have anyone in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton who can help in any meaningful way is an indictment of both the previous regime and Ron Hextall’s administration which is now two years old. Hextall’s first draft was short on high picks, but the team has also not been able to recruit the best college free agent forwards or defensemen despite a wide-open depth chart.

But there’s no law against a third or fourth rounder becoming an NHL player, either.

You’re already seeing what the Pittsburgh Penguins have got.