In the middle of the 2014-15 season, the Pittsburgh Penguins made a surprising trade by sending defensive prospect Philip Samuelsson to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Rob Klinkhammer and a conditional fifth round pick. That pick was going to be a 2016 fifth round pick if Samuelsson had played 40+ games with the Coyotes in the 2014-15 season. Well, Samuelsson played just four games for the Coyotes last season and was a -3 skater. Klinkhammer was a Penguin for 10 games before being sent, with their 2015 first round pick, to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for the talented wing, David Perron.
After coming to the Penguins, Perron looked inspired. People made jokes about how he was playing better simply because he was happy to get out of Edmonton, but it would not last. In Perron’s first eight games as a member of the Penguins, he scored seven points and in his final 35 only scored 15 points. Coincidentally, Perron shot the puck 37 times, or 4.625 shots per game, in his first eight and just 85 times, or 2.428 shots per game, in the remaining games.
Watching Perron play towards the end of the season, it seemed that he had lost his confidence. That’s certainly not uncommon when playing alongside superstars like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. When you’re a complimentary player like Perron is, it’s easy to just opt to make the pass to a superstar and let them make the play. When he was shooting the puck often, he was very dangerous and looked to be worthy of trading a first round pick. However, fans quickly soured on Perron after his point production dried up and he finished the season as a -8 player in a Penguin’s uniform.
David Perron’s Outlook For 2015-16
Some want to look at Perron’s terrible end to the season and his nearly invisible playoff performance and put him on the trade block. However, just consider what he’s accomplished throughout his career. Excluding his 43 games as a Penguin, Perron has played in 456 games and scored 274 points, or .6 points per game, as a member of the St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers. Neither team is exactly known for having offensive superstars and yet Perron still has three 20 goals seasons under his belt.
Does any of this sound familiar? This is almost the exact same situation that Patric Hornqvist was in before being traded to Pittsburgh. He had four 20 goal seasons under his belt before coming to Pittsburgh, with a career high of 30 goals in a season. What is Perron’s career high in goals? He scored 28 goals as a member of the Edmonton Oilers in 2013-14. The point is that both Perron and Hornqvist have the talent to be very effective scoring wings, but they’re much better players with centers like Malkin and Crosby. It’s the same idea that fans had about James Neal, all three are effective scorers on their own, but their production is greater when alongside a true superstar.
It’s easy to see Perron’s five game playoff run with a lone assist and a -1 rating and be less than impressed, but considering all of the Penguins were having trouble scoring goals, it’s understandable. Additionally, not many people knew that Perron was playing through cracked ribs in the playoffs, just like Hornqvist was.
Perron said he suffered a rib injury in the season finale in Buffalo.
— Seth Rorabaugh (@SethRorabaugh) April 26, 2015
He’s a talented player and there are few who would doubt that. He also does have a reputation as being a streaky player, but I’d argue that was a result of the teams he played on and not his own production. It’s a lot harder than anyone admits to play alongside Crosby and Malkin, not to physically play with them, but to maintain confidence in yourself and not let them do all of the work.
I mean, it’s not like Perron has issues with slow hands.
However, there’s another question that needs to be answered and that’s where Perron will play during the 2015-16 season. According to the Penguins website, Perron is a left wing and has played left wing throughout the majority of his career, despite being a right shot.
Head coach Mike Johnston spoke with the media at the Penguins alumni golf tournament and let a few things slip about his plans for the lineup.
We’re looking at Crosby with Kessel and Malkin with Hornqvist. On the left side, there are a number of players. Even right wingers like David Perron or Beau Bennett might be there. We want to see how a guy like Pascal Dupuis looks. It’s been almost two years since he’s been off. But he’s been encouraging.
There’s a couple things to take from this and the first is that Johnston either thinks or plans on playing Perron as a right wing and the other is the absence of Chris Kunitz’s name. In fact Johnston did not mention Kunitz at all throughout the entire media session. If he views Perron as a right wing where does he play? The top line will have Phil Kessel to the right of Crosby and the second line with have Hornqvist to the right of Malkin. That would leave Perron on the third line next to Nick Bonino, but what about when Eric Fehr returns?
Fehr was signed to play as a big and physical third line right wing or center, not to play on the fourth line. The third line needs a player like that to balance out Bonino, who isn’t the most physically imposing player. Now if we assume that Perron plays at left wing, which he should, does he play on the top line or the third line? From all reports, Johnston wants to try Sergei Plotnikov alongside Malkin before anything else. However, caution should be taken because Plotnikov has never play an NHL game, it’s a tall task to ask him to transition to the NHL, while playing alongside Malkin and getting second line minutes. Additionally, Plotnikov and Hornqvist both play similar styles, they go to the net and create traffic. Does that mean Malkin will once again focus on goal scoring, and he certainly is capable of scoring, remember his 50 goal season?
So assuming the second line is Plotnikov, Malkin and Hornqvist, that leaves Perron to the top line with Crosby and Kessel. Or what about Chris Kunitz?
The Pittsburgh Penguins are a much deeper team heading into 2015-16 season, but a lot of things need to be clarified. It’s hard to envision Perron could have a great season on the third line, but do the Penguins even want him to have a great season? He’s an unrestricted free agent after this year and could be up for a big raise if he plays well. Maybe the strategy is to bury him in the bottom six in an attempt to keep his price down. No one really knows at this point, but the Penguins training camp looks to be an interesting one this year. If they give Perron top six time, it’s easily concieveable that he could have a career season, but is that the Penguins goal?
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your comments below or tweet me anytime @MPityk
Michael Pityk is an analyst who has written for numerous sites since beginning his professional career. He’s acted as a credentialed member of the media for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Sports Journal, MSN, PensLabyrinth, Montreal Hockey Talk, ESPN Pittsburgh, The Hockey Writers, Todays SlapShot and The Bleacher Report. He formerly was the editor of Pens Labyrinth and an analyst for The Sports Journal. Michael presently acts as an NHL Analyst for The Hockey Writers