Pittsburgh Penguins: How Have the Former Pens Done This Season?


The Pittsburgh Penguins made some significant changes to their roster this summer. While the team brought in a fair amount of new talent, they also lost some key players as well.

As the regular season is nearing its close, let’s take a look at how the former Pens have performed this season:

James Neal, Nashville Predators

2013-14 Stats (Penguins): 61 points (27 goals, 34 assists) in 59 games

2014-15 Stats (Predators): 35 points (22 goals, 13 assists) in 63 games

Once a 40-goal scorer with the Pens (2011-12), Neal certainly seems to have regressed after leaving Pittsburgh. Even in the two seasons that followed Neal’s 40-goal outburst, the talented winger remained on a near-40-goal pace when projecting his goal totals over a full 82 games.

This season, however, Neal has tallied only 22 times despite playing a key role on the Predators. With less than 10 games remaining in the regular season, it’s unlikely Neal will top 30 goals. The winger’s assists have dropped notably as well, currently sitting as the lowest total since Neal’s rookie season, wherein he also posted 13 helpers.

The drop in production is hardly surprising as Neal’s quality of linemates has fallen significantly since his time as Evgeni Malkin‘s partner in crime. That being said, the sniper’s first season away from the Pens has proven the Crosby/Malkin effect to be alive and well as it seems Neal’s elite production during his time in Pittsburgh was accentuated by his time with the Pens’ superstar centres.

Jussi Jokinen, Florida Panthers

2013-14 Stats (Penguins): 57 points (21 goals, 36 assists) in 81 games

2014-15 Stats (Panthers): 40 points (7 goals, 33 assists) in 72 games

This one wasn’t quite as shocking as Neal’s regression. After rediscovering his scoring touch in Pittsburgh, Jokinen took a significant step back this season, as his goals dropped from 21 to only 7 – the lowest total of Jokinen’s career in seasons wherein he played over 50 games.

As was the case with Neal, Jokinen certainly did not benefit from the change of scenery. The drop in quality of linemates has seen the versatile winger’s numbers evaporate, as Jokinen went from being a staple on Malkin’s line to suiting up next to centres like Dave Bolland.

It was no mystery that Jokinen benefitted greatly from his chemistry with Malkin, and it seems the decision to cash in on Florida’s $4 million-per-season contract was a poor one when it comes to on-ice production.

Matt Niskanen, Washington Capitals

2013-14 Stats (Penguins): 46 points (10 goals, 36 assists), 124 hits in 81 games

2014-15 Stats (Capitals): 24 points (3 goals, 21 assists), 124 hits in 73 games

Niskanen was the story of the summer after his career season in Pittsburgh netted him a whopping 7-year/$40.25 million contract.

It was pretty clear that the pressure of being one of Washington’s highest-paid players weighed on Niskanen during the early goings of the season. While his play improved, the 2014-15 campaign has certainly been a step back for the eight-year veteran.

He’s kept up his physicality, but Niskanen’s production has dropped significantly. The blue-liner is on pace to post around half as many points as he did with the Pens, posting numbers more similar to those of the rest of his career prior to last season.

Niskanen benefitted greatly from the increased role he received in Pittsburgh following their numerous injuries on the blue line in 2013-14. Playing on the second pairing in Washington, he’s perhaps not getting quite the same opportunity to contribute.

That being said, Niskanen has one advantage that the previous two former Pens do not – he’s still playing with elite forwards. Skating with the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (both among the top 5 scorers in the NHL), Niskanen has certainly had the opportunity to match his numbers from last season when it comes to quality of teammates.

Playing in Capitals head coach Barry Trotz’s defense-first system has not been kind to Niskanen’s production, however, but his +8 rating suggests he’s still contributing on the defensive side of the puck.

Brooks Orpik, Washington Capitals

2013-14 Stats (Penguins): 13 points (2 goals, 11 assists), 221 hits in 72 games

2014-15 Stats (Capitals): 16 points (0 goals, 16 assists), 256 hits in 69 games

Signed to his own monster contract this summer (5-years/$27.5 million), Orpik has proved his worth much more than any other former Penguin.

Despite the expectations brought on by the salary he’s been given, Orpik has become a calm, reliable, leading presence on Washington’s blue line, prompting Trotz to give him top-pairing minutes alongside John Carlson.

While Orpik’s point-production hasn’t been anything to write home about (it never has been), the veteran defender has performed well in the area he’s been known most for – physicality.

After cementing his place as one of the top hitters in the league during his time in Pittsburgh, Orpik has managed to ramp up his physical game even more in Washington. His 256 hits thus far rank as the 3rd-best total of his career. With his second-best only slightly higher at 259, the 2014-15 season looks set to be Orpik’s best since back in 2008-09 from a physicality standpoint.

Regardless of the dollar amount attached to the veteran blue-liner’s name, it’s clear Orpik is still making an impact after moving on from the black and gold.

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