Penguins’ Teddy Blueger showing he belongs in NHL
Nick Bjugstad is a 6-foot-6 blue-chipper with a 24-goal NHL season on his resume.
Jared McCann is a former first-round pick with a shot teammates rave about.
But the new addition making the biggest impact for the Pittsburgh Penguins these days might be Teddy Blueger, the little Latvian who could, who scored in both of the team’s games over the weekend.
“You get this opportunity, and you try to make the most of it,” Blueger said. “Just trying to play as well as I can and contribute in any way that I can.”
The Penguins didn’t map out a grand developmental plan at the beginning of the season that prescribed a call-up for Blueger at the end of January. He forced his way onto the NHL roster with exceptional play at the AHL level.
Always considered a defensive stalwart, Blueger was challenged by the organization to improve his offensive game. He did that in Wilkes-Barre, scoring 21 goals in 45 games this season.
His scoring touch has survived a promotion to the game’s top level and a move from center to left wing. He scored in a 5-3 win over Ottawa on Friday and a 3-2 loss at Toronto on Saturday.
“We think he’s played extremely well,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s scored a couple of goals for us, but it’s more than just that. He’s been a smart player. I think (Matt Cullen’s) line has been very good the last few games. They bring us energy. They bring us momentum.”
When the Penguins get healthy up front — Evgeni Malkin is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, and Zach Aston-Reese is out with a hand injury — it’s hard to imagine Blueger keeping his roster spot.
But he has kicked down the door once already this season. Who’s to say he won’t do it again?
Here are three other things we learned in the aftermath of Friday’s big trade between the Penguins and Florida Panthers.
1. Playing in traffic
While the arrival of Bjugstad and McCann gives the Penguins a deeper and more versatile forward group than they’ve had in a while, neither is the type of player who will necessarily park himself at the top of the crease shift in and shift out.
With the exception of Patric Hornqvist, the team’s forwards sometimes need a reminder of where most goals are scored. Saturday’s loss in Toronto could provide it. The Leafs did a much better job creating traffic than the Penguins did.
2. Showing up
After many of their losses in the past few weeks — a 7-3 blowout in Vegas and a 6-3 clunker against last-place New Jersey to name two — one question dogged the Penguins: Did they show up with the focus and intensity required to win an NHL hockey game?
Now that general manager Jim Rutherford has made a big trade and only 30 games are left in the regular season, it’s time for the narrative to change from whether the Penguins are playing hard to whether they’re playing well.
The Penguins showed up against Ottawa, winning with superior firepower. They showed up in Toronto, too, losing primarily because the Leafs outbattled them in key areas of the ice.
3. Talking about practice
The Penguins have shown they can be successful during stretches of the schedule when they don’t have a lot of practice time. During their hottest stretch of the season in December, they were playing or traveling nearly every day.
Circumstances are a little different these days. Between all the new additions to the roster and the injury to Malkin, they could use some time to work out the kinks. Luckily for them, they’ll have three practices in the next five days.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at email@example.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .