Teddy Blueger suited up for his third career NHL game Saturday night as the Pittsburgh Penguins faced off against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Just over halfway through the first period, he received a pass from Garrett Wilson in the slot and sniped Leafs goaltender Garret Sparks.
Blueger goal, ref cam style 🎥 pic.twitter.com/cxibsNIw0a
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 3, 2019
That was the second goal on as many shots to start Blueger’s young NHL career. Both goals have been fairly impressive, showing a strong release and natural knack for finding the back of the net.
Blueger has been ready for his NHL call-up all season long but finds himself in a Penguins organization that is flush with talent at the forward position. After Jamie Oleksiak was traded to the Dallas Stars, a roster spot opened up for Blueger and he finally made his NHL debut at 24 years old.
How Does Blueger Project as an NHL Forward?
The Latvian forward was selected in the second round of the 2012 NHL Draft before spending four seasons with Minnesota State University – Mankato. At the collegiate level, he posted 31 goals and 108 points, totaling 63 points in his final two seasons.
However, it wasn’t until the 2017-18 campaign when Blueger really found himself in the offensive end. Often touted for his gritty defensive abilities, he notched 21 goals and 45 points with the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins that season, his second full run in the AHL.
This season, Blueger has 21 goals for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton once again, but this time in 25 fewer contests. It took him a little longer to develop, but he continues tapping into his offensive potential, making him an ideal player for Pittsburgh’s bottom-six. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton GM Bill Guerin had this to say about Blueger’s progress:
“He’s probably our top penalty killer, definitely our top faceoff guy. He plays on the power play, and one of the big reasons is because we start with the puck when Teddy’s out there. He wins the faceoff all the time. He’s been very, very good for us.” (from “Here’s a snapshot of the Penguins’ other top prospects” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 11/8/18)
During his brief stint at the NHL level so far, he’s spent most of his time skating with Wilson and Matt Cullen on the fourth line. With these linemates, Blueger is able to flash his forechecking and grinding abilities. He also provides an offensive spark the Penguins had been searching for on their bottom line. He has displayed his high-energy capabilities all over the ice and it’s showing on the stat sheet in the form of a plus-three rating.
Realistically, Blueger doesn’t project to be a top-six forward in the NHL, but as his all-around game progresses, he looks to become a solid source of secondary scoring on the bottom-six.
What Happens When the Penguins Are Healthy Again?
With Justin Schultz and Zach Aston-Reece both expected to return from injured reserve in the near future, Blueger will likely be sent back to the AHL Penguins. His current contract exempts him from waivers, making his demotion much easier. Evgeni Malkin is also expected to return this week and there will simply be no room for Blueger at that point. Assuming Penguins’ forwards stay mostly healthy for the rest of the season, it’s unlikely that the 24-year-old will find his way back into the lineup.
Blueger is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of this season and Pittsburgh will likely look to re-sign him, or at least match another team’s offer. Both Cullen and Wilson will be unrestricted, and with Cullen likely to retire, the Penguins will need some forward depth.
Again, Blueger’s had some tough luck coming up in an organization that has been stacked with forwards for many years. The acquisitions of Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann didn’t help his case either. McCann is signed through the 2019-20 season while Bjugstad is under contract until the 2021 offseason.
Despite Blueger’s early NHL success, he doesn’t have a great chance at carving out a regular role this season. The Penguins are simply too deep at forward while he’s still a borderline NHL talent. Still, as his offensive game progresses, he’s on his way to being a bottom-six contributor for an NHL club, even if it’s not with Pittsburgh.