The 2020-21 NHL season had to be different given the current climate of the world and the fight against COVID-19. One of the biggest changes that were set in place for the shortened season was giving every team the opportunity to utilize a taxi squad.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have gotten plenty of use from their taxi squad thanks to the mass amount of injuries they have suffered all season. From top to bottom with both forwards and defenseman, only two players (Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel) have played in every game this season.
A little past the midway point of the season, the Penguins’ taxi squad has seen quite a few changes. Let’s take a look back at the “original six” and current iteration of the Pens taxi squad and review what kind of season they have been having.
Currently a regular in the NHL lineup due to the number of injuries, Angello has one of the biggest frames on the team. 6-feet-5-inches tall, he has played in 14 games this season. In those games he has played respectably, scoring a goal and using his big body to rack up 43 hits.
Angello has played two games in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton (WBS) Penguins in 2020-21 and has a goal and an assist. It may not happen anytime soon, but if his play continues to progress upward, he could be a regular in the NHL Penguins’ bottom six.
The injuries to the Penguins’ forward core have forced Gaudreau to center the fourth line for four games so far in the 2020-21 season. In those four games, he only has a short-handed assist to his name. Single point aside, he has played really well and could be earning a spot as the 4C over Mark Jankowski when everyone is healthy.
Gaudreau was an AHL regular with the Nashville Predators organization and that was the goal when he joined the Penguins. His stint with the WBS Penguins lasted six games and saw four points.
The college signee impressed the Penguins brass enough to crack the taxi squad fresh out of Dartmouth College. Not too long after, O’Connor was making his NHL debut in Boston on Jan. 26. He would pick up an assist in that game, but that would be it. That was his only point in his nine NHL games played. The Penguins sent him back to the WBS Penguins, where he has played five games and scored five points (3-2—5).
The AHL is where O’Connor should have begun this season, even if he was among the best players in training camp. It’s not easy to transition directly from college hockey to the NHL without getting accustomed to the system in the minors. He has a very bright future but he has to grow in the system before he can reach his full potential; Soon enough he will be an NHL regular again.
Another player with an extremely bright future, Joseph showed what kind of NHL defenseman he can be. In his 16 games of NHL experience, he was pushed all around the lineup as the defense core suffered many injuries to start the season. With a goal and four assists for five points, he averaged almost 17 minutes of ice time per game.
Joseph has a ton of room to grow, and just a little more time in the AHL should benefit his potential. He got his NHL reps in and has learned what it takes to be a regular there. Being forced to play the top defensive pair with Kris Letang will do that.
It was fairly obvious when the original roster was announced that D’Orio wouldn’t be seeing NHL time unless severe goalie troubles set in. Luckily that didn’t happen for the Penguins and in late February D’Orio was recalled to the ECHL Wheeling Nailers. In 11 games played with the Nailers, the 21-year-old goalie has a record of 2-6-1 with a 2.97 save percentage (sv%).
You might not realize it, but Lagace has been on the move quite a bit this year. He started the season on the taxi squad, served as Tristan Jarry’s backup for a game, and was sent to the WBS Penguins for a stint. Now he is back on the taxi squad and has mostly been serving as Pittsburgh’s third-string goalie. During his stint in the AHL, the former Vegas Golden Knight played fairly well with a 3-1-2 record and .917 sv%.
Angello, Gaudreau, and Lagace are currently listed on the taxi squad but are often called up to fill-in for a depleted NHL roster. Next up are players that did not start the 2020-21 NHL season on the taxi squad but find themselves there now.
Being a healthy scratch or on the taxi squad isn’t exactly how Sceviour pictured his time in Pittsburgh. But with the lump sum of injuries, however, he still gets regular playing time. So far he has played in 25 of the first 33 games and recorded three points (2-1—3).
A veteran of 479 NHL games, Sceviour was acquired along with Mike Matheson in the trade that sent Patric Hornqvist to the Florida Panthers. Sceviour was supposed to fill as a stout bottom-six forward that could play all 200 feet of the ice. He hasn’t been able to play to his full potential this year, hence his drop through the waiver wire to the taxi squad. So far, he has a minus-3 rating and has been averaging 8:30 of ice time per game.
It can be argued that Weber shouldn’t be in the organization at all, since it was a gut reaction signing by a fleeing Jim Rutherford. Now, Weber is in Pittsburgh and has been used for two games. One more game and he would have reached 500 in his NHL career. In those two games, he averaged 11:19 of ice time and was a minus-3. He was pushed to the taxi squad where he has been ever since.
With injuries to Teddy Blueger and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins are depleted at the center position. And because of that, fans have been clamoring for Zohorna to get his shot in the NHL. That chance hasn’t happened yet, rather Zohorna has been a healthy scratch for the last handful of games.
Zohorna has made headlines in his first professional season in North America, standing 6-foot-6 and scoring nine points in 11 games in the AHL. His shot at the NHL could be nearing as the injuries continue to mount for the Pens and the options are running thin.
It goes without saying the Penguins have been playing shorthanded in the 2020-21 NHL season. While there may not be much production from the skaters coming from the taxi squad, the ability to utilize the depth and replacement players have been important to the team this year.
Nick Horwat is a graduate of Point Park University and was born and raised in Pittsburgh. A lifelong Penguins fan that has been watching and going to games for as long as he can remember.