Bonino Emerging as Key Player for Penguins

Who needs Sidney Crosby when you have Nick Bonino?

Okay, that might be a bit of an overstatement. However, Bonino is centering one of the hottest lines in hockey right now with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin as his wingers.

It has given the Penguins an extremely balanced attack. Despite playing behind Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins third line might be their biggest threat at the moment.

Bonino is tied with Malkin in terms of even-strength points. Both have four points a piece and Bonino has registered 3.05 points per 60 minutes so far in the playoffs.

Crosby and Bonino are both tied with eight points each through seven games, although Crosby has tallied the majority of his points on the powerplay.

Bonino Finds Another Gear

Bonino endured a horribly sluggish start to the season, one where it left you wondering how he fit in as a Penguin.

After being cast as a perfectly capable third-line centre, Bonino left many scratching their heads after recording a paltry three goals and nine points in his first 41 games as a Penguin.

Those numbers are barely good enough to be a fourth-line centre, and his performance left many questions about where he fit with the organization after a shocking trade last offseason.

Bonino then missed more than a month of action after suffering a hand injury in January. After returning to the lineup, he has finally found his identity as a Penguin.

He went on to score 19 points in his next 22 games after returning from injury, including 13 points in his last eight games. Including playoffs, Bonino now has 21 points in his last 15 games of action.

It’s an interesting contrast from his  performance last season as a Canuck. He started off hot with 19 points in his first 24 games, before tailing off and recording 20 points over his next 50 games despite playing the role of a second-line centre.

Some might accredit Bonino’s newfound success to his linemates. Both Kessel and Hagelin are wingers with an uncanny ability to put the put in the back of the net. Hagelin’s speed allows him to find the scoring areas, and Kessel is one of the best snipers in the league.

However, Bonino has improved with every passing game in the playoffs thus far. Through two games against the Capitals he has been one of the best players on the ice. His deke to set up Lovejoy’s goal in game one was an absolute beauty.

He also scored the game-tying goal for the Penguins in game one, giving his team a chance to win in the extra frame.

In game two, his slick centering feed to set up Hagelin’s goal was one of only two goals to squeak by a stellar Braden Holtby.


Bonino Over Sutter?

It looks like the Penguins have finally found what they were looking for when they traded Brandon Sutter to the Canucks in exchange for Bonino. At this point, is there any argument you can make for choosing Sutter over Bonino?

Brandon Sutter
Brandon Sutter only suited up for 20 games this season. Nobody is Pittsburgh is questioning his departure with Nick Bonino emerging as a key playoff performer. (Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports)

Of course, Sutter played only 20 games in his first season as a Canuck. He recorded four goals and nine points in his limited action, which looks good compared to Bonino’s three goals and nine points through his first 41 games.

However, Bonino’s playoff performance should hold off any comparison to Sutter for now. Ironically enough, Benning cited one of the

In an article from The Vancouver Sun last summer, Benning said, “I thought in the playoffs for Pittsburgh last year he was really good. He is a playoff player. When the games mean something that is when he is at his best.”

Benning would be referring to the 2013-14 playoffs, when Sutter scored five goals and seven points in 13 playoff games. It was a relatively strong performance for Sutter, although he did most of his damage against a weaker Columbus Blue Jackets team in the first round. He only had two points in seven games versus the New York Rangers in round two.

It was a similar story in last season’s first round defeat at the hands of the Rangers where the whole team, Sutter included, didn’t play very well.

Judgment on Sutter has to be held until he gets a chance to show what he can do with a full season in Vancouver. For now, nobody in Pittsburgh is complaining about Bonino’s contribution to Pittsburgh’s playoff success.