Tag Archives: Matt Hunwick

Odd Men Out

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a log-jam on defense. As of July 26, just over two months until the 2017-2018 season begins, the Penguins currently have 9 defensemen that could possibly make the roster come October. This begs the question, which defensemen will be left off the team and which will be the odd men out?

The Keepers

To me, there are four defensemen that are absolute locks to be here and playing at the start of the season; Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Ian Cole. Leaving Olli Maatta off this list is somewhat controversial sure but we’ll get to him later. Besides Maatta, this leaves Frank Corrado, Matt Hunwick, Chad Ruhwedel, and Derrick Pouliot all fighting for the remaining three spots.

The Unlikely

It would seem as though that the struggling Corrado and journeyman Chad Ruhwedel are destined to start in the AHL next season. Despite General Manager Jim Rutherford‘s high praise for Ruhwedel at the beginning of free agency, it seems as though the signing of Matt Hunwick has made him more of a depth defensemen than a top 6 guy. Hunwick is known to struggle, though, and has been driving Toronto fans nuts for years; so if he does start to flounder, or the inevitable injury to a defensemen happens, expect Ruhwedel to be the first guy up. Corrado on the other hand…well, who really knows. It seems as if he’s been forgotten over the past few months as free agency continues. Unless he stuns the coaching staff and GM in the preseason, Corrado will probably be heading to Wilkes-Barre for a majority of the season.

Three Men, Two Spots

This leaves us with Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot and Matt Hunwick, all fighting for the two spots that remain. As I’ve said about Hunwick, I do expect to see him on opening night, that may be in the press box or on the ice, but I just think that Rutherford would not give a three-year deal with an AAV of $2.25 million to someone just to be banished to the minors. Now, if Olli Maatta is still a Penguin by October, then there is absolutely no doubt that he will be starting. Maatta’s game went from amazing to disastrous after a slew of injuries stunted his development. Maatta’s mistakes stand out due to his lack of speed. However, when he’s not getting burned, he is still an outstanding defensemen. Maatta really has transformed his game to become a more complete NHL defensemen since his rookie season, but his speed is still something that plagues him. I personally do not want the Penguins to trade Olli Maatta. He is a great defensemen with a bright future ahead of him. That being said, when looking at the void at third line center and the excess that the Pens have on D…if Rutherford wanted to make a splash and trade for a big name, (which he does not have to), Maatta would almost have to be going the other way.  Finally there is the never-ending conundrum that is Derrick Pouliot. The Pen’s best defensive prospect has struggled ever since he stunned Pittsburgh by scoring his first goal on his first shot. Reported attitude problems and losing the ability to quickly move the puck seemingly overnight have made Pouliot spend a majority of his career in the AHL, despite his overwhelming potential. However, in an interview with The Trib, Rutherford said, “Pouliot finished the season real strong.  We feel he’s going to come in and play,” However, if the Pens were to keep Maatta, then the top 6 would include Letang, Schultz, Dumoulin, Maatta, Cole, and Hunwick. I don’t see where Pouliot fits in. I think the kid deserves a shot and also think that he is probably better than Matt Hunwick is, but again Hunwick’s contract makes it hard for me to think that he’ll be sitting many games. To be quite frank, I do not know what the Pens will do with Pouliot if this same roster is intact. Maybe he’s traded, maybe he spends time at practice and in the press box, maybe he takes Hunwick’s spot, or maybe he’s forced to spend yet another season in Wilkes-Barre.

Only time can tell what will happen to the Penguins Defense come October. No matter what does happen, a healthy Kris Letang makes the Pens defense one to reckon with next year.

Hunwick An Underrated Find For Penguins

The Penguins definitely lost more firepower than they acquired this offseason. Losing names like Nick Bonino and Trevor Daley due to their seeking of bigger money elsewhere wasn’t an aid to the Penguins chances at a three-peat.

They acquired a few new players via offseason moves and resigned a few of their current free agents to deals. None of the signings were spectacular but the signing of Matt Hunwick, in particular, was one I’m a big fan of.

The Penguins signed Hunwick to a 3-year deal at $2.25 AAV.

To the average hockey fan, many won’t recognize the name and wonder why he got a decent chunk of money. The Penguins, in a big way, needed to find NHL capable defensemen without paying an arm and a leg. Hunwick is a great fit.

Hunwick won’t knock anyone’s socks off with his goal scoring ability, or lack there of, from the blue line. His career high is six, which he did twice. But those two seasons were his first and second full seasons in the NHL. His 19 points last year were his second highest aside from his first NHL season.

He will remind you a lot of Brian Dumoulin in the sense that his lack of offensive scoring prowess is made up by his stellar defense. Much like Dumoulin, Hunwick has good puck moving abilities. Hunwick spent some time on the power play in Toronto last season so he has the ability to run it in a dyer situation.

He thrives as a penalty killing defenseman, something the Penguins wanted to replace in the loss of Daley.

Hunwick’s two most recent seasons in Toronto saw him block a career high shot total as well as his hitting totals went up. He’s not considered a “tenacious” defenseman but he seems to have an edge that if things get out of hand, he’ll have his hand in attempting to fix the problem.

If you watched any of the NHL Playoffs outside of the Penguins last season, specifically the Toronto and Washington first round matchup, there is a case to be made that Hunwick was Toronto’s best and most noticeable defenseman.

On a roster with young defenseman such as Jake Gardiner, Morgan Reilly, and Nikita Zaitsev, the 32-year old Hunwick was the one who had the most solid, all-around performance, earning himself the chance to make some money on the free agent market.

It’s very likely that Hunwick will be on the third defense pairing with Olli Maatta. Guys like Chad Ruhwedel and Derrick Pouliot would be next if the Hunwick experiment doesn’t work out. Both have shown flashes of being capable NHL defenseman which means that Hunwick will need instant production.

Another small tidbit about Hunwick is something that may impress you.

Hunwick’s 1.06 points/60 minutes at even strength were the highest of any defenseman on the roster last season outside of Kris Letang, who we know only played half the season due to injury.

The prime years for Hunwick are trending towards the end, but the Penguins do a fine job of bringing in “afterthought” defenseman (i.e. Justin Schultz) and turning them into very good blue liners. The potential to do the same in this situation is there as long as head coach Mike Sullivan deploys Hunwick in the correct way.

We all know how often Sullivan strikes gold with his new acquisitions. This, likely, will be no different.