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Penguins

Penguins reaping rewards of trade for Marcus Pettersson

Jonathan Bombulie
| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, 1:09 p.m.
Defenseman Marcus Pettersson makes his Penguins debut against the Avalanche in the second period Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Defenseman Marcus Pettersson makes his Penguins debut against the Avalanche in the second period Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

Daniel Sprong is a simple, 21-year-old Dutchman just trying to score a few goals in the cruel world of professional hockey. It’s not his fault the Pittsburgh Penguins got off to a poor start to this season.

Marcus Pettersson is a humble, 22-year-old Swede just trying to establish himself as a trustworthy member of an NHL defense corps. His arrival didn’t magically turn things around for the Penguins.

But man, it sure wouldn’t be hard to accidentally come to those conclusions, would it?

Before trading Sprong for Pettersson on Dec. 3, the Penguins were off to a mediocre 10-10-5 start. Since then, they’re on an impressive 14-3-1 run heading into a Friday night matchup with the Anaheim Ducks.

In general, the deal is working out pretty well for all parties involved.

Sprong is off to a perfectly acceptable start to his tenure with the Ducks, scoring five goals in 15 games. Pettersson, meanwhile, has been a revelation with the Penguins.

Using his 6-foot-3 frame to his advantage, Pettersson has been on the ice for only four even-strength goals against in 18 games since the trade.

Lately, he’s been adding some offensive numbers to his resume as well. Pettersson heads into Anaheim on a four-game scoring streak. During that stretch, he has five assists and a plus-8 rating.

“Ever since coming here, I feel more and more trust from the coaches,” Pettersson said. “That’s the path you’ve got to go on. You’ve got to make sure your teammates trust you and your coaches trust you. I can always improve, but I’m on the right path.”

It’s fair to say the Penguins lucked into Pettersson to a certain degree. General manager Jim Rutherford’s main motivation in making the deal was to move Sprong along, not to see what it was going to take to pry Pettersson away from the Ducks.

That said, the team’s scouting report on Pettersson has been dead-on. The day the trade was made, Rutherford said his game was reminiscent of Brian Dumoulin’s, and the comparison hasn’t been too far off.

Pettersson isn’t as strong a skater, but he uses his reach and makes a good first pass under pressure a lot like Dumoulin does.

Pettersson, incidentally, considers the Dumoulin comparison a great compliment.

“His poise, his understanding of the game, he can play in all situations,” Pettersson said.

He also understands the value of those first passes he is making.

“It’s the case with every team. You always want to play a fast-paced game. But we’ve got forwards that are so skilled,” Pettersson said. “When the D play simple and when we play fast, I think the forwards read off us well, and it just clicks.”

Perhaps the greatest impact Pettersson’s arrival has made on the Penguins is the way it’s started defense partner Jack Johnson’s game moving in the right direction.

In the 25 games before the trade, the Penguins were getting outscored 27-13 at even strength when Johnson was on the ice. In the 18 games since, the Penguins are outscoring their foes 12-6 when Johnson plays at even strength.

Johnson said he doesn’t consciously change anything about his game based on his defense partner, but he admitted he likes having Pettersson around.

“He’s a good player,” Johnson said. “I think he’s easy to play with. He handles the puck well, makes good outlet passes. If he gets the puck in the corner, he helps get us out of trouble pretty quick.”

In general, Johnson said he’s become more comfortable since Pettersson arrived.

“You just really focus on your own game because part of having a partnership is you don’t want to let your partner down,” Johnson said. “I think we just get along really well on the ice.”

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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