Tom Kuhnhackl Affected By Olympic Decision

In April of 2017, the National Hockey League announced that it would not have its players go to the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Plenty of people were not pleased with the loss of a potentially great Olympics featuring Penguins Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and other highly touted NHLers. Despite the unpopular decision, the NHL was adamant that the decision was final. Fast forward to January 2018 and the decision has remained – the NHL will not be sending any stars to the Olympics.

Sure, this hurts the superstars of the league and the fans. People were excited for Connor McDavid to join Team Canada and Team USA to be joined by some skilled young players. But this decision hurts some of the lesser known players, such as Penguins forward Tom Kuhnhackl.

For Tom, hockey runs in the family. His father, Erich, is one of the best German hockey players of all-time and a member of the IIHF Hall of Fame. Tom began his career in the German minor leagues as a high tempo offensive player, but soon took his game overseas to develop into a potential NHL player.

Tom was a 1st round pick in the CHL Import Draft and joined the Windsor Spitfires for the 2010-11 season. He was drafted by the Penguins in 2010 and joined the team after having 97 points in 97 games in the OHL with Windsor and Niagara. Many thought he’d be a steal from the 4th due to his good offensive skill and ability to put the puck in the net, but injuries derailed his rise through the minors.

After several injury-riddled AHL and ECHL seasons, Kuhnhackl finally got a call up to the NHL in the 2015-16 season. He played 42 games and managed to put up 15 points as a 4th liner. Kuhnhackl developed his game into more of a strong two-way presence in order to make the NHL as a 4th line / PK specialist. Kuhnhackl still shows off an offensive flair from time to time when he manages a breakaway or scores a goal.

Now, it is not fun to miss out on McDavid or Jack Eichel in the Olympics. But some players are suffering more, like Kuhnhackl. Plenty of NHL stars will likely get another chance if the league participates in the 2022 Olympics, but this could very well have been Tom’s only chance. While Germany did not look like a strong choice to compete for Gold, they should have had a reasonably good team with Kuhnhackl joining teammates such as Leon Draisaitl and Tobias Rieder.

There are actual reasons for the NHL’s seemingly unpopular decision. Injury risk plays a huge role – 4 players suffered season-ending injuries in Sochi including Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg. The Islanders lost John Tavares and the Panthers lost Aleksander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky. The NHL also does not reap the rewards to outweigh the costs of taking a long break during its season.

While we have to accept the NHL’s decision for this year’s winter games, it is unfortunate for a guy like Tom Kuhnhackl. His father is a legend in German sports history and this would have been his opportunity to shine for his country. He can only hope for 2022 and a potential chance at chasing the gold.

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What To Make of Dominik Simon

Seemingly any young talent that is brought up inevitably will be placed on a line with Sidney Crosby. So far, Dominik Simon has been no exception.

It can be said that Crosby makes a lot of his linemates better and there is no doubt that is true. But, to play with Crosby, you’ve got to have some skill and be a bit gritty and that’s exactly what Simon brings.

“He makes the game so much easier for you,” Simon said. “He finds you everywhere. I’m really grateful that I can play with him. I’m just trying to play my best.”

Thursday, Simon posted his third and fourth goals of the season in just his 16th game. He had just four in 21 games in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this year. Over a combined 138 games the past two seasons, Simon potted 40 goals in the AHL. The ability is there.

So what is his place as an NHL full-timer as it looks like he’s earned that for the remainder of this season?

Simon has been a tremendous infusion into the lineup for the Penguins through 16 games. He’s been a vital part of the top line over the 7-2 stretch the team is enduring.

It’s probably really good when the NHL’s best player is complementing your play as of late.

“You can tell the past couple games he’s more confident using his shot,” Crosby said. He’s got a great shot, he’s had a couple great shots and he’s finding the net. When guys are doing that you just tell them to keep shooting.”

Daniel Sprong was also called up recently and was the right wing on the line. They all had an explosive game in Brooklyn during the 4-0 shutout of the Islanders a few weeks ago. Sprong’s chemistry, however, wasn’t quite what Simon and Crosby have built and Sprong was sent back. It’s now Conor Sheary manning that spot.

Head coach Mike Sullivan has been thrilled with Simon. Having coached him in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, he was pretty aware what he was getting.

“Any time a young player plays with Sid there is a tendency to want to get Sid the puck all the time,” Sullivan said. “We encourage them to play their game and Sid will adapt to them.”

“He’s doing a better job of taking what the game gives him. Players first call up, there’s a wow factor. But the wow factor isn’t there for the second, third callup and players get more comfortable. That’s what we’re seeing with Dominik.”

Simon was never considered a heralded goal scoring prospect in the organization. He did score a bit in the AHL but it’s a tough transition, especially when he played all of his young career in Europe before transitioning to the American pro game. Regardless, Simon has been more than impressed with his shot.

“After you score a couple you feel better on the shot. I’m just trying to find more spots for the shot, you’re going into the soft spots more because you have more confidence in there. I hope it’ll keep going in and I’ll do my best.”

The Penguins have done a very good job at taking marginal prospects and putting them in situations to thrive. Many questioned if the likes of Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Bryan Rust among others could make spots for themselves on the team. Sheary and Rust carved out top-6 minutes in two pivotal Stanley Cup runs.

Simon is playing top-6 minutes with Crosby currently and doing a great job of it. While it’s fair to reserve complete thought on whether Simon can stay there, we’ve seen this story before and it usually goes pretty well.

Trade Target: Jean-Gabriel Pageau

Elliotte Friedman said recently on SportsNet “Think that the Penguins are one team that is looking hard at [JG] Pageau and it would make a lot of sense“.

This would be a great addition and immediate solution to the Penguins’ 3rd line center woes. With these recent rumors (by a reliable source) comes with the question, who is Pageau?

Pageau is 25-years old and carries a cap hit of $3.1 million AAV for the rest of this season and two seasons following that. That’s a great price for a producing third line center that still can grow his game. Also it allows you to sure up that center depth for at least another 2 years after this season.

He is currently in Ottawa and his name should sound familiar to Pens fans. He played in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. In last year’s playoffs, he had 8 goals and 2 assists in 19 games. That is great production for center depth.

He’s been struggling this season after getting 43 points two seasons ago. He currently has 15 points in 42 games. His faceoff percentage hasn’t lacked this season with it currently at 53%. But the lack of offensive contributes to the whole Senators team struggling this season.

He would be a great change of scenery guy. The change of scenery could help his production change for the better by joining a surging Penguins team.

Adding a young piece like Pageau with control of his reasonable cap hit would be huge for the Pens. How much would it cost? Well that’s a great question.

No one knows except for the general managers making the trade calls. But the Pens will make a offer for sure if the Senators have Pageau available. With Rutherford liking to make trades earlier then the deadline, a trade could happen within the coming weeks. The deadline is February 26 so this time next month will be full of speculation and non-stop rumors.

The Penguins should be and odds are will be highly active during this month when it comes to trades. They need a 3rd line center and some more depth for the team. Rutherford has lots to do in order to make this team real contenders to three peat. Rutherford will make moves that’s for sure, let’s just hope Pageau is one of them during this time of solving that puzzle that each one of these 31 teams are trying to do.

WBS Results Recap: Wednesday 17th January

JS Dea has been recalled which is well deserved as he’ll likely serve as the 13th forward for the Penguins west coast road trip. Wydo also went down and back up with the ECHL, as he’s becoming very familiar with. No injury updates.

Wednesday Night (1/17/2018)

Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Home) – 4-1 Win

Quinney slides in to Dea’s spot on the top line, and Smith slides back in after getting Saturday night off and will play on the 4th line for the night. Trotman and Corrado get back in for Prow and Spionzzi. The game was open, if not particularly exciting, for the first 15 minutes at which point Pedan took an undisciplined roughing penalty. On the ensuing powerplay, Lehigh Valley broke the deadlock through the stick of Philppe Myers ripping a one timer that deflected off the stick of Tinordi in front of the net. This put the game at 1-0 going into the first intermission. The Aston-Reese and Haggerty line, now with Quinney, get on clicking as they have been doing 5 and a half minutes into the 2nd intermission, as Aston-Reese passed it across the blue line to Haggerty, who dropped the puck for Quinney who attacked down into the high slot and shot over the glove of Tokarski to tie the game at 1. WBS then took a lead through their powerplay as McKegg drove down the right wing and put the puck to the front of the net where Aston-Reese had set up shop. His initial bid was rejected by Tokarski, but Christian Thomas was also lurking around the goal and dragged the puck to his forehand and roofed it for a 2-1 WBS lead. A 3-1 lead followed very shortly after with DiPauli winning a puck on the board and releasing Colin Smith and Blueger on a 2 on 1. Smith found Blueger through the stick to give a partial breakaway to Blueger who outwaited the goalie for a cool finish to a quick transition and a 2 goal lead that the Baby Penguins took into the 2nd intermission. In the 3rd, Lehigh Valley did put a puck in the back of the net, but thankfully for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the referees ruled that Phil Varone had interfered with Anthony Peters’ attempts to stock the point shot. Aston-Reese then got some great luck to put the game beyond doubt as he tried to bank pass it into the neutral zone, bounced the puck off of the linesman and back to himself, which he happily deposited into the empty net for a 4-1 lead.

Wednesday 17th January

They’re Killing It! The Penalty, That Is

Momentum is a funny thing. It can be found in different ways and carried even further. A four game winning streak has brought the Pens that needed momentum. There’s been several components to getting the team back on their feet, with one of them certainly being how they killed the penalties.

Special teams in general has attributed to the Pens getting their “swagger back”. During a time where the scoring was a little more difficult to find, they have relied on the power play. Of course their power play is ranked first in in the league, so obviously it’s doing it’s job.

It’s the penalty kill though is what has separated them from the pack. Saturday’s game against Detroit was a perfect example. The Pens committed six, that’s correct six penalties! And killed off five of them!

Then Sunday, Pittsburgh killed off a crucial Rangers Power Play in a game they were down by 1 at the time before going onto win 5-2.

Killing these has given the team important momentum. It’s because they’re dominating the penalty kill. It’s not like their just surviving and getting lucky that the puck didn’t find the back of the net, they are putting the game into their own hands. I’m talking only letting up one or two shots in over two minutes of a penalty.

The way they are stopping the offensive flow of the other team is the reason for success. The Penguins are doing it by a couple different strategies.

One is by cutting off the opening pass into offensive blue line by playing strong neutral zone defense. They aggressively race at the puck holder causing him to make a rushed pass, or have to dump into the zone, never letting the offense set up their power play and letting the Pens clear the puck quickly.

The second use of play is when the other team finally does get into the zone. The Pens have done a fantastic job of creating difficult angles and passing lanes for the offense upon approaching the player who is carrying the puck, it’s the angle of pursuit that makes it difficult to set up that bang-bang play to score on an open net.

Of course the third way Pittsburgh has been by pinpoint goaltending. The saying is old and cliche but it is true, the best defender on the penalty kill has to be the goaltender. Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry have done a great job of that.

Tons of credit has to go around to all 6 defenseman along with Carl Hagelin and TomKuhnhackl. These two wingers might not be scoring a bunch of goals but they are holding down the fort on the an important part of the Penguins winning ways. There’s nothing else to say but keep up the great work!

Collaboration: Would Trading Patric Hornqvist Ever Be Beneficial?

The Pittsburgh Penguins are winning again and are seemingly back into the playoff picture. A few weeks ago, I proposed a question on twitter:

It generated a lot of reaction, both good and bad, from our readers. So a good friend of mine, @PensArmy on twitter, and I decided to collaborate on the idea of if a Patric Hornqvist trade would do anything for the Penguins or not.

Obviously with the team winning again now and getting hot at a good time, the subject is a bit less relevant, but let’s take a look anyway.

Would Trading Hornqvist Be Beneficial?

It’s hard to find anyone who could bring the energy or the net-front presence Hornqvist does and there is something to be said for that. I am a firm believer that the current Penguins, had they been losing still, would be worse off without Hornqvist in their lineup. But imagine this scenario…

The Penguins are comfortably out of the playoff race. Hornqvist and Ian Cole are pending UFA’s at season’s end. Cole could be a solid top-4 defenseman but likely suits a bottom-pair role best on a playoff team. The Penguins could sell him off for a middling prospect and a pick. He’s not the discussion here.

Imagine Hornqvist’s name on the block. Hornqvist is a guy you win a Stanley Cup with. He is the guy who plants himself in front of the goalie and makes himself an annoyance for the goalie. He scores tons of goals because of this, too. He’s one of the most invaluable pieces the Penguins have used in previous years.

Remember a few years ago when the Penguins traded for Jarome Iginla? At the time, he was aging and was seen as a piece the Penguins needed for that extra push. They sent prospects and a first-round draft choice to Calgary for Iginla.

Hornqvist is currently a winger in his prime who will command hefty money in free agency. The Penguins may be able to squeeze him in under the cap but it’ll be a challenge.  The return on Hornqvist could easily be huge.

Hornqvist would be a rental and if you’re out of the playoffs now, who’s to say you couldn’t resign him in the offseason?

It would be considered re-tooling and not rebuilding as you aren’t getting rid of any of the big names on the team. They could gain at least a first round pick plus more picks or prospects and load themselves up as they haven’t used a first round pick since 2014 on Kasperi Kapanen, who’s since been traded.

Of course, the thought process changes now that the Penguins are beginning to win games on a more consistent basis. Hornqvist can not be traded now that the Penguins are back in the picture. But if things go sour again before the deadline, the Penguins could always make a splash.

Pens Army argues the other side that the Penguins would be foolish to trade Hornqvist:

https://officialpensarmy.wordpress.com/2015/08/15/article34/

WBS Results Recap: Weekend of January 14th

Reid Gardiner was sent back down to Wheeling after being a healthy scratch, while Casey DeSmith returns to Pittsburgh which results in Adam Morrison being signed to another PTO to serve as the backup through the Canadian trip with some of the fathers coming along for the trip. Gage Quinney has returned from his day to day injury and Tom Kostopoulos appeared at practice in the week for the first time in 3 months. Christian Thomas also deserves some congratulations for making the Canadian Olympic Team.

Friday Night (1/12/2018)

Belleville Senators (Away) – 6-2 Win

Wydo and Quinney get into the lineup in place of Tiffels and Burton, and on defense Corrado and Taylor get in for Summers and Prow. The Baby Penguins got off to a great start with a Tinordi block of a point shot rebounded out to Zach Aston-Reese who fed Ryan Haggerty to get off to the races and wrist the puck on the rush over the glove of Hogberg in the Senators net 5 minutes into the game. Belleville didn’t hang around waiting to respond, tying the game just before the 10 minute mark after some questionable defensive work from Czuczman and certainly a goal that Anthony Peters would want back, and we entered the 1st intermission tied at 1. At 3:38 of the second period, Haggerty once again struck, this time pulling up just inside the Belleville blue line on the rush and once again using his deadly wrist shot to snipe his 2nd goal of the game over Hogberg’s glove once again. The Penguins then gave themselves a cushion 90 seconds later though some solid forechecking work by Adam Johnson winning the puck for Quinney who set up Canadian olympian Christian Thomas to snap a puck over Hogberg’s glove once again. Belleville did claw one back through some good PP work finished off by Colin White for his 2nd goal of the night as he shot a one timer from inside the dots. In the third period, Haggerty completed his hattrick as he skated in on the left hand side of the offensive zone, cut across the zone and shot from the right hand side to put the game at 4-2. Garret Wilson then scored from just off the goal line into the top corner for a 5-2 lead that put the game beyond any doubt for WBS. JS Dea added an empty netter with just under 3 minutes left in the game for a 6-2 WBS victory.

Friday 12th January.jpg

Saturday Night (1/13/2018)

Laval Rocket (Away) – 4-3 Win

Smith, Quinney and Wydo out up front for a new 4th line of Tiffels, Burton and McGrath. On defense, Prow, Summers and Spionzzi in with Taylor, Trotman and Corrado having a night off. Anthony Peters still between the pipes. Laval took an early lead through a goal a weak wrister from the blueline that somehow evaded the body of Peters, much to his dismay. Andrey Pedan, of all people, responded immediately, skating the puck from the defensive zone coast to coast and firing a wrister that looped into the net off the glove of McNiven in the Laval net. To start the 2nd intermission, Laval once again took a lead through a tipped shot by Cracknell to put the game at 2-1. This lasted all of 23 seconds as good work defensively by Summers freed the puck up for Blueger to backhand a breakout pass to DiPauli on the right half wall, who skated to the defensive blue line before chipping the puck off the wall and into the path of a streaking Johnson who pulled up, took a shot that generated a rebound in the slot that Blueger, who started the entire rush, followed up and deposited into the empty net for a 2-2 tie. Andrey Pedan, getting powerplay deployment, then added to the WBS side of the score making the game 3-2 from a point shot thanks to a Garrett Wilson screen with Laval equalling 4 minutes afterwards, also on the powerplay, after a point shot was knocked down and the rebound deposited behind Peters. The wild 2nd period didn’t stop there as the 5th goal of the period was Andrey Pedan’s hattrick goal (yes, you read that correctly, I know, I can’t believe it either), as almost a carbon copy of his second goal with Wilson providing the screen, and Pedan finding the back of the net through the obscured vision of McNiven. This put the game to 4-3 and this is how it finished through the relatively boring 3rd period.

Saturday 13th January

Three Takeaways

1) Andrey Pedan had himself quite the weekend, getting a hattrick on Saturday and a two assist night on Friday for a 5 point weekend. I still don’t think there’s a lot of NHL upside there, but as weekends go, I don’t think you can ask for much better. Pedan has these moments where he looks amazing, his first goal against Laval being that where he went end to end on a rush and scored. If he could find some consistency, then he would be a legitimate prospect, but I’ve yet to see that.

2) With DeSmith up in Pittsburgh, Anthony Peters got to take over in the starters net again and keeps his run going of winning his last 5 starts. Not bad for a PTO goalie! He’s earned an AHL contract at some point, which unfortunately might not be with the Baby Penguins because of Leighton still being around, but depending on the outlook of the injury, he might end up here. He’s done well in his limited work.

3) Talking of streaks, WBS themselves are on a 7-game winning streak. As we talked about when they went through their downswing of sorts when they lost 8 of 14 games, there was always enough talent in the team to bounce back from that swing and go on a streak of their own and through this current winning streak, they’ve propelled themselves back up to the top of the Atlantic division and trail only the Marlies in regard to winning percentage in the Eastern Conference. There’s a lot of hockey left to play, but the Penguins are in a really strong spot.

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