There seem to be two schools of thought regarding Pittsburgh Penguins’ forward Dominik Simon that are completely at odds with one another: either he is comically overrated, or tragically underrated.
There are not many discussions placing him anywhere in between.
Late last season, and during the playoffs, Simon found himself on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby in many high-pressure situations. Clearly, Penguins’ coach Mike Sullivan had enough confidence to place the 24-year old in a prominent role when it counted the most.
Given the intensity of the arguments presented by both sides of the fence, it’s time that we push opinion aside and take a deeper look at Simon’s on-ice performance.
Examining Simon’s Points and Possession
In 33 regular season games, Simon had four goals and 12 points while adding three assists in eight playoff games. But points alone do not always tell the entire story.
Looking into what the kids call “advanced statistics” we see a bit more of a complete picture. During those 33 regular season games in five-on-five play, Simon had a ‘Corsi for percentage’ (shot attempts for vs. shot attempts against) of 54.14. This shows us that while he was on the ice, the Penguins possessed the puck more than the opposing team.
Yes, 33 games is a small sample size, but among the club’s NHL regulars only Bryan Rust (56.37), Sidney Crosby (55.43), and Kris Letang (54.98) had better numbers. That is pretty impressive, and it will be interesting to see what he can do with a full season.
Many have argued that Simon was carried by Crosby, and depending on how you wish to present the numbers, an argument for this could be made.
During the 244 minutes that Crosby and Simon shared the ice last season, they had a combined CF% of 60.60 and a ‘goals for percentage’ of 61.90. There is definitely something clicking there, but if you look at Simon’s numbers away from Crosby, his CF% drops to 42.06.
That is a huge drop, but one that can be explained. The young forward was recalled and returned to Wilkes-Barre several times over the season which did not exactly allow him to find a role. During those stints, it’s likely that he was given sporadic minutes with frequently changing linemates. Of the 113 minutes away from Crosby, how many could be considered a good barometer of his production?
In Simon’s eight playoff games and 54 minutes with Crosby, he registered a CF% of 50.51. But during his 35 minutes without the future-hall-of-fame center, he ended up with a CF% of 50.72.
So you see, after having some time to adjust and find his place on the team, he is doing just fine on his own.
Growing Through Success and Adversity
As the Penguins open training camp, Sullivan has placed Daniel Sprong on the wing alongside Crosby; the spot that Simon occupied during much of the playoffs.
Rather than seeing this as a slight, it should be seen as an opportunity for the young forward to grow his game and learn from the likes of Matt Cullen and Riley Sheahan. No, Simon does not seem like the prototypical fourth-line player in the NHL, but the Penguins’ bottom six has never been status quo under Sullivan.
One thing that has made the Penguins so dangerous in recent seasons is the ability to roll out four lines of skilled players for which the opposing team must account. Simon can help continue this trend while playing on the first, or fourth line.
Critics of the young Czech are swift to condemn him for his mistakes, but they do not consider the positive side of his game. He has a high hockey IQ, a wicked shot, and the knack for being in the right place at the right time; all valuable assets in today’s NHL.
He will undoubtedly learn from those mistakes and continue to grow his game, no matter the role that he is placed. He isn’t the second coming of Jaromir Jagr, but his game is reminiscent of Pascal Dupuis, who was a versatile player capable of success anywhere in the lineup.
If Simon can indeed grow from the experiences of last season and absorb every ounce of wisdom that he can from this veteran group, a very successful year should follow. Regardless of his centerman, 15-20 goals should not come as a surprise, especially to his staunch defenders.
Remember, Dupuis was an afterthought in the Marian Hossa trade, and look at what he became. Those are some big skates to fill, but Simon has the skill to make it happen and has laid the foundation for success.
The supporters and detractors in this conversation are all standing by to say “I told you so,” and for better or for worse, Simon is going to prove someone right.