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Why the Ceci Signing was Necessary for the Penguins

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Pittsburgh Penguins Cody Ceci

Slower defensemen who take care of their own zone rather than blazing a trail to the offensive circles are not typically fan favorites in Pittsburgh. Like Jack Johnson and Rob Scuderi before him, newest Pittsburgh Penguins free agent signing Cody Cedi is already getting hammered on social media with pounds of snark and sarcasm.

The poor guy doesn’t stand a chance in the public realm and Penguins fans are not quick to reconsider, but he should help the Penguins on the ice. And that’s why this free-agent signing might be one of the most important offseason moves.

First, it didn’t cost the Penguins much. One-year, $1.25 million is a pittance.

Last week, we spoke with scouts and hockey professionals about Penguins RHD Chad Ruhwedel. The opinions were unanimous that Ruhwedel was a good defenseman but not an everyday player.

The Penguins very much needed a right-side defenseman on the third-pairing.

“(The fit with the Penguins) giving me an opportunity to play quite a bit and giving them an opportunity to fill in that spot on the right side of the back end,” Ceci said on Saturday. “I’ll come in and kill some penalties and play strong defensively.”

And to burst a few bubbles, scouts also didn’t give Trevor Daley good marks last season. In fact, scouts who spoke to our colleague Sheng Peng of San Jose Hockey Now felt Daley was no longer anything more than a depth defenseman.

Ceci, 26, was once a prized possession of the Ottawa Senators. He was their 2012 first-round pick and had a bright future. His first few years in the league also showed promise as he was the shutdown half of the Erik Karlsson-Ceci pairing.

Throughout his career, he started a strong majority of his shifts in the neutral zone or defensive zone. His starts outside the offensive zone have generally equaled his Corsi. In other words, he trod water. Last season, with easier minutes in Toronto, he was above water in shots and one goal short of even.

Ceci played big minutes with big responsibilities. He won’t be responsible for carrying the Penguins blueline as he was in Ottawa, but the Penguins were short one penalty killing d-man after they bought-out Johnson.

An offensive defenseman might have been the wrong fit.

“I think I’m a two-way defenseman. Kind of got away from that a little bit last year, so just looking to add that offensive side back a little more,” said Ceci. “Always been pretty steady defensively and play hard, so that’ll be there.”

The last couple or few seasons have not gone as well for the 6-foot-2, 210-pound defenseman. Ottawa tanked and Ceci slid into the depths. Last July, Ceci was part of a multi-player swap and found a short-term home in Toronto.

He tried to insert more offense to keep up with the high-flying Toronto Maple Leafs. To be generous, it didn’t work. Ceci was out-of-sorts in the NHL postseason, and this clip of him missing the net by a country mile went viral.

So, let’s draw our battle lines now. PHN will not now, or ever, join the crowd and mock players. If or when Ceci earns criticism, we will dish it in proportional magnitude just as we will dole out praise. Pittsburgh Penguins Twitter will have to forgive us.

And, for $1.25 million, the Penguins haven’t exactly risked the farm.

Ceci is a heavy right-side defenseman who knows how to take care of his own end. He got outside of his game last season. But rewinding to when he was surrounded by talent in Ottawa, he could present real value to the Penguins.

At worst, he can platoon with Ruhwedel. At best, he can counterbalance third-pair LHD Mike Matheson, who also needs to resurrect his flagging career and create a solid third pair.

The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t strike gold on Saturday, but they may have found every day steadiness. And that’s all they needed.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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