The Pittsburgh Penguins have not had good luck, or any luck, with second-round draft picks. Not since 1976 have the Penguins drafted a player in the second round and that player played 200 games for the Penguins before being traded, waived, or exiled to parts unknown to begin his life’s work. Teddy Blueger was the Penguins 2012 second-round pick, and was selected one year and round ahead of Jake Guentzel.
But Guentzel who was the Penguins 2013 third-round pick doesn’t have to deal with the Penguins second-round curse. Guentzel’s career has been off to a fine start including eye-popping playoff stats in 2017 and 2018, and last year he scored 40 goals in the regular season.
Blueger, 25, is a natural center and is finally getting his chance. He cracked the NHL last January and played 28 games, mostly out of position for the Penguins who were overstocked down the middle. Still, in those 28 games, Blueger scored 10 points (6g, 4a).
The 6-foot, 184-pound speedster even filled the Penguins second-line center role well enough when Evgeni Malkin missed two weeks in mid-March. Though in fairness, Blueger and linemate Phil Kessel played sheltered minutes, Blueger scored four points including a pair of shorthanded goals in that stretch.
When finally given the chance, the Penguins prospect unleashed his speed and whirlwind game. He can forecheck with reckless abandon and backcheck. he chases the puck with relentless energy and might possess a little scoring touch.
The “might” have scoring touch is the part which the Penguins and onlookers cannot yet prove. Blueger improved his offensive stats every year since his freshman year since at Minnesota-Mankato. His stats graph a straight incline, including his more than two and a half seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
The Penguins organization initially cast Blueger in a defensive role. In his first full professional season with the WBS Penguins, he had 31 points (7g, 24a) in 54 games. His assignments were down-line jobs. His second year, his production increased while meeting those gritty challenges. He scored 21 goals with 24 assists in 71 games and officially was on the Penguins radar.
WBS head coach Clark Donatelli began to utilize Blueger in an offensive role last role season and the sparkplug met that challenge, too. He ad 39 points (21g, 18a) in just 45 games before he kicked down the door to Pittsburgh.
With the Penguins, Blueger was typically cast as a fourth-line left wing. He was not as good in that role. The advanced stats give a far too negative impression. Cullen and Blueger had a 42% Corsi rating together as they often matched up against opponent’s top lines, but also against the opposing fourth lines. The Penguins just didn’t have a stout fourth line after dealing Riley Sheahan on Feb. 1 and Zach Aston-Reese’s broken hand which was suffered soon after.
However, overall Blueger managed a 47% Corsi rating and held his own when slotted with talented linemates. The eye test popped far more than the soulless numbers crunched on NaturalStatTrick.com
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford paid Blueger the perfect compliment on July 1 when he said Blueger was going to be a regular in the NHL.
But where Blueger fits with the Penguins is an entirely different matter. Cullen has retired, but the Penguins still have more centers than spots. Jared McCann is a natural center, which gives the Penguins at least five centers, and six if you want to count Alex Galchenyuk who is also a natural center but has not excelled in that role at the NHL level.
So, Blueger will first have to earn his inheritance from Cullen as the fourth-line center. Then, it is anyone’s guess which linemates may side-saddle Blueger.
Prediction: Blueger is the perfect type of fourth-line center for the Penguins bend for a more honest game. At times he can appear like a Tazmanian Devil on the forecheck. He assisted on two Jared McCann shorthanded goals, and scored one, too. Blueger could be one of the Penguins top penalty killers and provide that breath of fresh air after the stale stank of spoiled championships filled the room last year.
Blueger is a spark plug. pencil him in for the fourth line role (and if the Penguins are forced to move Nick Bjugstad for salary reasons, Blueger could eventually push for that job, too). PHN is officially bullish on the Latvian native’s chances with the Penguins. He has 35 point potential on the fourth line and will make the Penguins PK more dangerous.
35 points. 15 goals. 20 assists. Including 3 SHG. A positive turnover ratio and positive penalties-drawn ratio.
However, cancel all of this if Blueger is pushed to the wing. In fact, in that scenario, Blueger probably isn’t one of the best 12 forwards. Training camp will be very important for Teddy Blueger.