It will be a busy month for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they have several decisions to make regarding players’ contracts. Everyone knows the two big players to watch in Pittsburgh are Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Another player to keep a close eye on is Evan Rodrigues; although he had ups and downs throughout the year he is definitely worth keeping on the roster.
Penguins’ Bottom Six
During the first half of the season, Rodrigues was like money in the bank for the Penguins. In the first 33 games, he scored 15 goals and had 15 assists. For the first part of the year, the Penguins were missing Malkin, which allowed Rodrigues to be in the spotlight. In December, he was averaging 20 minutes of ice time per game and was a point-per-game player for the first three months of the season.
When Malkin returned to the lineup in January, fans saw a noticeable decline in Rodrigues’ performance. With less ice time his game completely fell off as he only scored four goals in the last 49 games of the season. During the Penguins’ playoff series against the New York Rangers, Rodrigues showed flashes of his former self, scoring two goals in the first period of Game 3 and a breakaway goal in Game 7.
One of the many things he brought to the table during the year was his speed. He was one of the best players in the league this season on the rush and zone entry. He frequently brought the puck down to the opponent’s end of the ice and created shot attempts. Rodrigues also ended up being the Penguins’ most durable player in a season that was plagued with injuries and sickness. He was the only player in Pittsburgh who appeared in all 82 regular-season games, and one of the 45 players throughout the league who did not miss a game due to COVID-19.
He also proved to be an asset on the power play this season, scoring seven power-play goals on the year, and drawing 34 minutes of power plays, second only behind forward Jake Guentzel. Rodrigues was a dependable bottom-six player for the Penguins this season, and should be one of their top priorities this offseason. He is a good depth player who has the ability to slide into the top six when needed, which makes him a valuable weapon for the team.
Penguins’ Penalty Kill
Much like the story of Rodrigues, the Penguins’ penalty kill was one of the best in the league for the first half of the season. They eliminated 86.4 percent of the opposing teams’ power plays through the first 78 games of the year. Then it seemed like a switch flipped and the penalty-kill unit fell apart, allowing six goals in the last four games of the regular season. The penalty kills’ end-of-season slump followed them into the first round of the playoffs, and ultimately decided the outcome during the overtime loss in Game 7.
The Penguins’ 5v5 play was superior to that of the Rangers during their playoff series, but without the help of special teams they simply could not finish the job. The penalty kill will be an area of concentration during the offseason and the Penguins should be looking to make some changes to this unit. They need to be more aggressive on the penalty kill, which is why Rodrigues would fit in perfectly. His speed and agility make him the perfect special teams player.
Looking Ahead to 2022-23
At this point, Rodrigues may be wondering if Pittsburgh is the right fit for him. He may be thinking he could slide into a second- or third-line center position on another team. If the Penguins are serious about keeping their bottom six strong, they need to find a way to keep Rodrigues on the roster.
My name is Sylvie McCarthy and I am a graduate of the University of North Florida. I have spent time as a sports writer for the Casper Star Tribune in Casper, Wyoming and the Picayune Item in Picayune, Mississippi. Sports is my passion, and I am so excited to be writing for The Hockey Writers where I will be covering the Pittsburgh Penguins.