At World Championships, Penguins’ Dominik Simon giving teasing glimpse of talent
The Pittsburgh Penguins should be pleased with what winger Dominik Simon is accomplishing this month at the World Championships in Slovakia.
Simon has recorded three goals and five assists in his first six games with the Czech Republic, ranking on the fringes of the top 10 among the tournament’s leading scorers.
What they should really be happy to see, though, is that Simon is putting up those numbers while Sidney Crosby is on vacation elsewhere in Europe.
If the 24-year-old Simon could become the kind of player who makes consistent offensive contributions while playing on lines centered by someone other than the Penguins captain, he might be a big part of the solution for the team moving forward.
In the court of public opinion, Simon is one of the more divisive players on the Penguins roster. His teammates and coaches rave about his hands and his hockey IQ. His stat line says he scored eight goals in 71 games this season.
The disconnect can be confounding.
A closer look at Simon’s numbers shows what he is at this point in his career.
Generally speaking, he’s an effective checking-line forward. He doesn’t hit or play a heavy, grinding game like a traditional checking-line forward would, but the stats don’t lie.
When Simon was on the ice this season, the Penguins scored 2.64 goals and allowed 1.96 goals per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time.
The 2.64 goals-for figure is pedestrian. It’s seventh-best among the team’s regular forwards.
The 1.96 goals-against figure is very good. In fact, among NHL forwards who played at least 800 even-strength minutes this season, only 26 had a goals-against-per-60 better than 2.0.
The list includes players known for their checking abilities such as Nick Bonino, Casey Cizikas and Valtteri Filppula.
At this stage of his career, that looks to be the kind of player Simon is, and maybe that’s all he’ll ever be – a depth forward making $750,000 who plays an unspectacular game that helps keep the puck out of his own net but does little else.
But what’s happening in Slovakia provides the blueprint for the kind of player that might be lurking inside Simon if he’s able to put it all together.
Simon did an outstanding job of setting up Crosby for goals this season. During the 270 even-strength minutes the duo shared, Crosby scored nine times. In almost 1,200 even-strength minutes without Simon, Crosby scored 14 times.
That’s a huge boost for Crosby, and frankly, it’s what Simon aspires to be.
“It’s like you have been watching a guy since you were little, and then you’re on his line,” Simon said at the end of the season. “You don’t think about it when you’re on the ice with him, but then you realize it and it’s really cool. So, you definitely want that. And you want to prove you can be there.
“But if you play third line or whatever, the players are great on the whole team, so it doesn’t really matter who you play with on Pittsburgh.”
That’s just the problem, though. For Simon, it has mattered.
In 270 even-strength minutes with Crosby, Simon had four goals and 10 points. In 616 minutes without Crosby, Simon had three goals and nine points.
If Simon ends up being a reliable two-way forward who can be carried to decent offensive numbers by Crosby, that’s fine. You could do worse.
If he ends up being a reliable two-way forward who can lift non-Crosby linemates to greater offensive heights – like he is with the Czech national team in Slovakia this month – that’s great. You couldn’t do much better.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .