It seems like every season a player comes out of nowhere to become something truly special. Sometimes a player captivates the entire league like Matt Murray did last season en route to a Stanley Cup championship. Other times, they fill a less obvious, but all-too-necessary, role as Conor Sheary did late in the Cup run.
However they present themselves, and in whatever magnitude they come, surprises are a delight to predict and observe as a hockey fan. Here are a few potential surprises that might grace the Pittsburgh Penguins this season.
Yes, I mentioned him above so he won’t be totally shocking when he arrives. Sheary played a pivotal role during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup victory by infusing youthful energy with Sidney Crosby’s trust – a feat not easily accomplished.
Why would he be a good candidate to surprise the Pens in 2016-17? A lot of discussion regarding his overall size and ability to contribute was tossed around last year, even during the playoffs. Sheary stands only 5’8″ which puts him in category of smaller players in the league. Combine that with a playing weight of only 175 lbs. and there’s plenty of reason to question his ability to withstand a full NHL season. He’s just not very big.
But, Sheary endured the playoffs. And since it’s a different animal than the regular season, maybe Sheary is well prepared for 82 games. He went largely unscathed and that bodes well for his future as Sidney Crosby’s line mate. When it comes to playing alongside Crosby, you’d better at least be consistent. Consistently energetic. Consistently available. Consistently where he needs you to be. Occupying a wing on a line with the best player in the world will find your stat sheet filling up on a regular basis. Fellow THW writer Michael Necciai predicts that Sheary is in store for an 18 point season. I happen to think it’ll be higher and that we’ll all be surprised by how effective he becomes playing alongside Crosby.
I’ve covered Pouliot in the past, but there’s still room for him to surprise the Penguins this coming season. He’s had it rough recently. But, there are plenty of opportunities to contribute in 2016-17.
Trevor Daley’s injury might open the door for him to play a few times a week, until he proves himself. And while Ian Cole and Justin Shultz played well in the playoffs, neither have truly been a terrific regular season performer. Again, this could open the door to Pouliot. Rather than risk repeating myself too much here (see the link above to Pouliot’s dedicated article) I’ll close by saying that he has believers. See Jim Rutherford’s quote from Bill West’s article over at TribLive.
Last year, he made great strides. It’s my understanding he’s had a terrific summer, and he’s really prepared for camp. I’m expecting Derrick to take a big step forward.
Thomas DePauli / Oskar Sundqvist
I’ve combined the two into one slot because of the conditions which will need to be realized before either has an opportunity to contribute at the NHL level. If either player is to make their way to the big club, it’ll likely be as an injury replacement.
Both are centers but each has a different style of play. DiPauli is an energy guy, much like Pens forward Bryan Rust. He’s got the skill needed to put the puck in the net and above average speed.
DiPauli’s a two-way center, high motor, pretty close to NHL ready from what I can tell. He’d be among the Pens top 3 or 4 forward prospects.
— Jonathan Bombulie (@BombulieTrib) August 18, 2016
Sundqvist, on the other hand, is likely considered the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins top center and offers a bit more diversity than DiPauli. Sundqvist is more defensively responsible and can play on the penalty kill, something DiPauli likely wouldn’t be asked to do. Depending on need, each player could wind up contributing in their own way.
How likely would it be that we see either (or both) in a Penguins uniform at some point during the upcoming season? Unfortunately, that’ll be determined by how hard the Penguins get hit by injuries. Should anything happen to a player like Matt Cullen, Sundqvist would likely get the opportunity to fill in. Should a scoring center be needed, or if head coach Mike Sullivan wants to experiment with DiPauli as a winger, then his door opens.
The potential for surprises is one of my favorite things about hockey. You never know who might be the next young player to really make the most of his opportunity. Right now, the Penguins have at least four players who could enthrall the city of Pittsburgh before the playoffs begin.