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Penguins

Statistically, Senators' Derick Brassard is top available target for Penguins

Jonathan Bombulie
| Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, 3:51 p.m.
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Anton Forsberg, left, blocks a shot by Ottawa Senators center Derick Brassard during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, in Chicago. The Blackhawks won 3-2.
Nam Y. Huh/AP
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Anton Forsberg, left, blocks a shot by Ottawa Senators center Derick Brassard during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, in Chicago. The Blackhawks won 3-2.

As the Penguins' interminable search for bottom-six center depth rolls slowly toward a conclusion — or at least a pause — it's worth taking a moment to look at the pool of players at the position who are reportedly available before Monday's NHL trade deadline.

Examining a few cherry-picked stats meant to give a 30,000-foot view of a player's capabilities, Ottawa's Derick Brassard appears to be the cream of the crop by a large margin. It's no wonder the Senators' asking price (a first-round pick, a top prospect and an NHL player) is reportedly so high.

Beyond that, there is a group of players that could help a team in the right circumstances and fail to move the needle if the fit is wrong.

Riley Sheahan's numbers are included as a reference point for Penguins fans.

POINTS PER 60 MINUTES (5-ON-5)

Riley Sheahan: 1.83

Derick Brassard: 1.81

David Desharnais: 1.74

Matt Cullen: 1.47

Jean-Gabriel Pageau: 1.39

Derek Ryan: 1.35

Tomas Plekanec: 1.31

Mark Letestu: 1.12

By this simple metric, Brassard looks good and Letestu looks bad. Everyone else is in part of the mushy middle. It fits with the eye test, too. At this stage of their careers, Brassard is still a legitimate scoring-line center, while Letestu is a fourth-liner best used to eat up some minutes when top centers aren't on the ice. Also, Sheahan is outperforming expectations dramatically.

SHOT-ATTEMPT PERCENTAGE (RELATIVE TO TEAMMATES)

Derick Brassard: 5.5

Derek Ryan: 3.2

Tomas Plekanec: 0.2

Mark Letestu: -1.6

David Desharnais: -2.5

Jean-Gabriel Pageau: -3.1

Riley Sheahan: -5.5

Matt Cullen: -8.6

Another reason to consider Brassard head and shoulders above the other center candidates who might be available. He drives play significantly better than his teammates. This is a real black mark on Cullen's record this season as well. His point-per-game numbers are actually pretty good, but this metric indicates he's stuck in his own zone an awful lot.

GOALS FOR/GOALS AGAINST (5-ON-5)

Derick Brassard: 45-44

Tomas Plekanec: 28-31

Derek Ryan: 28-42

Riley Sheahan: 25-26

David Desharnais: 23-37

Matt Cullen: 22-25

Jean-Gabriel Pageau: 21-26

Mark Letestu: 13-25

Analysts with a good grasp of hockey stats will discount this stat, as it is basically the same as the much-maligned plus-minus and it's not really a good indicator of future performance, but there's something fundamentally useful about the bottom-line scoreboard outcome when a player is on the ice. These numbers show Brassard is not a typical two-way third-line centerman at all. He's more exciting than that at both ends of the ice. Pageau and Plekanec look more like responsible bottom-six players by this standard. It also raises a red flag on Ryan. His points per game are good. His shot-attempt stats are good. So why has he been on the ice for 42 goals against? That would probably improve with a move to a better overall team, but what if it didn't?

POINTS PER GAME, PLAYOFFS VS. REGULAR SEASON

Mark Letestu: 0.12

Derick Brassard: 0.11

Jean-Gabriel Pageau: 0.05

Matt Cullen: -.03

Tomas Plekanec: -0.06

Riley Sheahan: -0.11

David Desharnais: -0.22

Derek Ryan: N/A

Real statheads would reject this number too, largely because of small sample sizes, but what the Penguins would really want more than anything in a player they acquire this late in the year is a top playoff performer. By this metric, Brassard, again, is the class of the field. It also scores points for Letestu. Fifteen points in 30 career playoff games is a pretty strong resume for a player in his role.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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