Matt Cullen is showing the tricks to faceoffs for the Penguins
As the Pittsburgh Penguins experiment with Dominik Simon in hopes of teaching the winger how to play center, they’ve instructed new player development coach Matt Cullen to work with Simon on taking faceoffs.
“That’s one of the responsibilities that we’ve given him,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’ll spend some time with Dom.”
Cullen spent plenty of time with the incumbent centers during the late stages of practice in Cranberry on Friday. For about 10 minutes, Cullen worked with Nick Bjugstad, Teddy Blueger, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Serving as a “linesman,” Cullen dropped pucks for faceoffs and even grabbed a stick to show some of the finer details of a craft he fine-tuned for 21 years as a center before retiring this past offseason.
“He was a good leader when he played and now, he’s obviously leading as a coach,” Bjugstad said. “He’s definitely able to relate to us because he’s fresh out of the league. He gives us a lot of little tips on faceoffs, penalty kills. It’s good to have him here at camp. He’s a good voice to have. It’s a little different when he’s in the coaching apparel other than his equipment. I think he could still be playing. But it’s great that he’s still involved in the organization teaching stuff.”
“He’s communicated a lot of knowledge and he was a great player for a long time,” Blueger said. “Just a lot of details that he notices and things that he’s learned throughout the years. Just tips on certain things. As centers, everyone has the strong parts of their games, some weaknesses too. It’s been really good, already helpful.”
Cullen won 53.3 percent of the draws he took in his career.
“I remember a few times him using his foot,” Bjugstad said. “He would kind of shield the puck and win it back. I would always, when I was younger, use my power. He’s obviously not as big as me but smarter at that point. He’s definitely savvy and he’s got some tricks. He’s been sharing some of those tricks now.”
For a player like Blueger who is expected to enter his first full season at the NHL, it’s a skill vital to his role as a fourth-line center and penalty killer. He only won 41 of 92 draws he took as a rookie last season (44.6%).
“For me, my big thing on faceoffs is trying to diversify,” Blueger said. “I kind of stick to basically my strength. When I struggle, I kind of run out of options a little bit in terms of my approach on the draw. That’s something we’ve been working on.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .