Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens Can Learn A Lot From the Remaining Playoff Contenders


I’m not sure that anyone, including the Pittsburgh Penguins faithful, was surprised at the early dismissal the Pens suffered at the hands of the New York Rangers.  While Jim Rutherford and company put an emphasis on building a team that could contend in the playoffs, they did exactly opposite.

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009 they had nine players that were drafted and developed internally.  They had young, impactful players in the early stages of their careers, which meant cap-friendly contracts. That is a direct result of drafting and developing well.  The current Pens entered the playoffs with only four players that were drafted and developed internally.

I touched on that specific topic when I discussed the Pens’ lack of draft picks in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. But, what it boils down to is paying too many veterans too much money and an inability to provide your stars with a young, talented supporting cast. When you look at the final four teams left in the NHL playoffs, you’ll realize that for the most part, they’ve done exactly opposite of what we’ve seen from the Pittsburgh Penguins over the last five years.

The Pens refuse to trust their youth. While they likely won’t have an option but to do exactly that this coming season, they’ve had a large number of talented defensive prospects waiting in the wings but continue to sign players like Rob Scuderi and Christian Ehrhoff to multi-million dollar contracts.

There will be growing pains for these young players, but letting them play through these bumps and bruises in the regular season is how you build a playoff contender.  Some have cited the fact that you risk missing the playoffs if they struggle too bad, but the Pens had to beat the last place Sabres this season to get in anyway.

Let’s consider the success we’re seeing from youthful, impact players.  Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov are both in the top-five among playoff scorers, with Johnson occupying the top spot. The average age for Tampa Bay’s defensemen is 26.9.  The Anaheim Ducks’ defensive corps is even younger, averaging 25.7. You’ll probably remember Simon Despres, as he was traded for Ben Lovejoy at this season’s deadline to add experience for a long playoff run. He has been a large part of the success of this young squad.

Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, and Jakob Silfverberg are also good examples of players that are 25 years old or younger, but find themselves in the top-ten in playoff scoring. The most expensive of the players mentioned are Palat and Johnson, both carrying a cap hit of $3.3 million.  Again, players in the early stages of their career with cap-friendly contracts.

Jim Rutherford has stated that he wants the Pittsburgh Penguins to get younger and faster this summer. The formula is simple, trust your youth and let them battle through their growing pains. If you find yourself in a position that requires additions there will be options at the trade deadline.  You have to see what your young talent can offer and go from there.

Next: Kasperi Kapanen Could Make an Immediate Impact for the Pens

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