Accelerated development from Teddy Blueger could be good news for Penguins
Before he made his NHL debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins at the end of January, the story of Teddy Blueger’s career was slow and steady improvement. His two-way game was always a point of strength, but his offensive game took some time to come around.
As a freshman at Minnesota-Mankato, Blueger managed six goals and 19 points. By the time he was a senior, he nearly doubled those totals to 11 and 35.
In his first season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, he had seven goals and 31 points in 54 games. This season, he jacked those totals up to 21 goals and 39 points in just 45 AHL games.
Once he arrived with the Penguins, though, he wrote a different script, immediately putting up six goals and 10 points in limited ice time in 28 games.
To break that down a little further, Blueger averaged 1.1 goals per 60 minutes of five-on-five ice time. The only player on the team with a better figure was 40-goal man Jake Guentzel (1.45).
To outside eyes, he was an overnight success. The way Blueger saw it, though, it was the same process he followed in college and in the minors, just accelerated.
“I had a good run there for a bit and was able to play some more minutes and stuff and grew more and more comfortable,” Blueger said. “I’d say probably the first 10, 15 games, I’d say my game took some adjusting. I was just worried about chipping the puck forward and dumping it in. After that, it kind of started to slow down a bit. I was able to hang onto the puck more and make more plays and feel more comfortable that way. I thought I played better after that.”
Blueger’s development continued once the season ended. At the World Championships in Slovakia, he posted a goal and three assists in seven games and was named one of Latvia’s top three players. He also ranked among tournament leaders with a 62.7% success rate in the faceoff circle.
Continued improvement from Blueger is critical for the Penguins.
While much of the focus around the team’s desire to get better at this point in the offseason focuses on trades, free agency and the draft, the Penguins will also need to see improvement from within. It’s not reasonable to expect many of the team’s key players will see a boost in production as they move into their 30s. It is reasonable to expect the 24-year-old Blueger’s arrow to be pointing up.
With 42-year-old Matt Cullen hitting unrestricted free agency and considering retirement, the fourth-line center job looks wide open for Blueger.
Most of the forwards who spent time on the team’s fourth line this season did not match’s Blueger’s production of five five-on-five goals in 28 games.
Riley Sheahan had six in 49 games. Cullen had five in 71 games. No one else scored more than two.
If the Penguins are going to be the kind of team that rolls four lines that can score – a stated goal of coach Mike Sullivan on many occasions – Blueger seems better equipped for the task than many players who have been tried in the role over the past two seasons.
With his developmental pace on overdrive, Blueger will spend his summer preparing to fill it during his second NHL season.
“You know what to expect,” Blueger said. “Everyone always says, ‘It’s fast, it’s skilled, blah blah blah,’ but you don’t really get a feel for what it’s like until you’re actually in it. You know what the pace is like, what to expect, how hard it is to hang onto pucks, protect the puck down low, beat guys one on one, things like that. You can tailor (offseason workouts) to your own personal experience, how you felt out there and what you feel you’re missing. I think that makes a big difference.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .