When Pittsburgh Hockey Now spoke with people around the Wilkes-Barre Penguins prior to Teddy Blueger getting the call-up this season, the knock was the same. He might be a good defensive player in the NHL but he wouldn’t produce much offense. It wasn’t so much a knock as it had become generally accepted.
Monday night, Blueger netted a pair of big goals in the Penguins 5-2 win over the New York Rangers in addition to earning praise from his head coach Mike Sullivan.
“He’s showing an ability to produce some offense,” Sullivan said. “I give Teddy a lot of credit. He’s worked extremely hard for this opportunity. He’s earning every bit of ice time that’s he’s getting.”
Blueger has taken a giant leap forward this season, as he seemingly has done each season of his hockey career. At every level, Blueger has exceeded his point total from the year before. At 24-years-old and after nearly three seasons in the American Hockey League Blueger is finally hitting the NHL stat sheet.
“He’s playing an important role for us right now, especially with (Malkin) out of the lineup and he’s done a great job,” Sullivan said.
Blueger, a Latvian native who played in the last two World Cups for Latvia as one of the only North American professional players on the roster, was noticeable in all phases Monday night. His shorthanded goal in the second period effectively ended New York’s chance to tie the game.
“I was kind of scramble mode. They had a couple guys behind the net. The goalie was all over the place,” Blueger said. “(Bryan Rust) made a great pass to me and I just tried to get it on net as quick as possible.”
Don’t let Blueger’s modesty fool you. He made a few smart decisions on the play and showed high-end speed to get past the New York defenders to create the situation. Blueger knew to stay low but not chase the puck–he left that to Rust so he could be open for the pass.
That Blueger had the wherewithal to do all of that at the NHL level might come as a surprise to the people PHN spoke with months ago about Blueger’s NHL prognosis. And that is part of the charm of Blueger’s story. He continues to prove people wrong.
“When I first got to Wilkes-Barre, I was labeled a bit too much as a defensive guy and a grinder,” Blueger said. “The last couple of years down there, I showed that I could score.”
Blueger’s offensive totals down on the farm were a straight incline. He had seven goals in his first season, then 21 goals in 71 games in his second season, and finally 21 goals in just 45 games before he got the call this season.
Actually, that’s a steep incline.
In the NHL, Blueger is producing at a competent level, too. In 23 games, the speedy forward has 11 points (6g, 5a). With the Penguins he has split his time between center and left wing. However, during Malkin’s absence, Blueger has shined brightly as a center including centering Phil Kessel and different left wings.
Blueger’s tenacity and defensive work have also covered for the famous defensive shortcomings of linemate Phil Kessel. His forechecking work with fellow versatile, speedy forward Jared McCann has also not gone unnoticed, either. Blueger won’t be the Penguins permanent second line center. That gig belongs to a guy named Evgeni Malkin for a little while longer.
But that isn’t stopping Blueger from trying to earn a permanent spot in the NHL.
“You can’t expect Sid and Jake and Rusty to score every game. They’ve been carrying the load lately,” Blueger said. “As a team, everyone feels good about themselves; about each other when you get contributions from the whole lineup.”