In losing Matt Niskanen, the Pittsburgh Penguins not only saw a hard-working two-way defenseman walk, but a key piece of their power-play leave.
Ranking sixth on the team during the regular-season in power-play points (15), Niskanen led the club in the postseason with six power-play points; two more than captain Sidney Crosby, and four more than Evgeni Malkin. Which speaks volumes to how valuable Niskanen was on the Penguins’ special teams.
Now that the 27-year-old will be showing off his “Nis-cannon” in Washington next season, Pittsburgh must find the man who’ll replace him. And one player who can fill Niskanen’s shoes is newly signed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.
Although Martin is certainly a candidate, Ehrhoff brings a more offensive game, with a rocket of a slap-shot. You place Ehrhoff with Letang at the blue-line on the top power-play, and it’s instant production. Letang’s healthy, and Ehrhoff provides that extra added insurance should Letang carryover his turnover-happy ways.
Ehrhoff, 32, is a tall, sturdy defenseman, who has the potential to be even better than Niskanen. While Niskanen without a doubt proved himself worthy of a power-play spot, he doesn’t nearly have enough experience on the man-advantage as Ehrhoff. Which goes back to my projection in that Ehrhoff could manufacture more scoring than Niskanen in the shorthanded opportunity.
Last season with the Buffalo Sabres, Ehrhoff potted 12 power-play points (third on the team), which is actually pretty sufficient considering how atrocious Buffalo was. If you bypass his time with the Sabres - because, let’s face it, it’s hard to evaluate someone on such a miserable team – Ehrhoff was a prominent piece to the Vancouver Canucks’ power-play.
At the conclusion to the 2010-11 campaign, Ehrhoff finished ranked tied for fourth among NHL defensemen on the power-play with 28 points (6G, 22A), and fourth on his team overall. Then, in the playoffs that season, Ehrhoff recorded eight power-play points (1G, 7A), which was tied for third on the team with Ryan Kesler. And to add onto those postseason numbers, Ehrhoff tied for first among defensemen in the NHL for those eight power-play points.
That production came when Ehrhoff was paired with the Sedin twins, Kesler, and the powerful Alexander Edler on the power-play. Can you imagine what Ehrhoff would contribute if he’s with the likes of Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Letang and Malkin? This decision is a no-brainer: put Ehrhoff on the top power-play.
Yes, Ehrhoff hasn’t been able to muster 20-plus points on the man-advantage over the last three seasons; however, as I mentioned earlier, Buffalo is far from the level Vancouver is, so you can’t really look too deeply into his slowed production – his team just stunk.
Again, we can’t leave Martin out of the running for top power-play rights, or perhaps even a guy like Patric Hornqvist, but Ehrhoff’s the big money signing and has tremendous experience on the man-advantage.
Having two defensemen on the power-play is the right scheme too. Ehrhoff could very well be what Sergei Gonchar was. And if that’s the case, Letang could benefit enormously.