The Pittsburgh Penguins are said to be weak defensively, at least according to many analysts and fans. Their decision to deploy an unproven defensive corps could work out very well but could also come back to bite them in a big way. And, they’re aware of that.
The fact that there was so much emphasis put on bolstering their offensive depth while names like Cody Franson and Christian Ehrhoff sat unsigned throughout the entire summer is a testament to how much faith Jim Rutherford has in this blue line. One of the reasons for that faith is 24-year old Brian Dumoulin.
It’s interesting to me how Dumoulin has been overlooked so often in this lineup. While we don’t quite know where his ceiling is yet, he should provide very solid play on Pittsburgh’s bottom pairing. Can he crack the top-four? Unlikely, but there are rumblings that Derrick Pouliot could split time between the AHL and NHL and if that’s the case, Dumoulin could make a case for himself.
I touched on D-pairings in the past using underlying numbers to look at how well players meshed and Dumoulin seems to fit well with Ian Cole. So, it isn’t out of the question to assume those two could anchor the second pairing. Many will think I’m insane for saying that but those same folks are the ones that also wanted Cody Franson in Pittsburgh. Let’s compare the two of them.
Dumoulin vs. Franson
Dumoulin had his ups and downs last season when called upon through the first half of 2014-15. But, when he had to fill-in down the stretch and in the playoffs he did a fantastic job. Paired with his AHL defensive partner Taylor Chorney, the two of them gave Pittsburgh reliable, steady play against the New York Rangers in the post-season.
How does his production look next to Franson?
Keep in mind, both players played in five playoff games with their respective teams. Franson averaged 12.86 time-on-ice while Dumoulin averaged 12.79. So, both were deployed in a very similar way. Franson recorded one assist and Dumoulin went scoreless.
That’s where the similarities end.
There’s a glaring piece of information here that should stand out to Pens’ fans. Everyone wants another stay at home defenseman that’s more responsible in his own end. Well, Dumoulin clearly separated himself as the superior defensive player with far better shot suppression numbers. Franson proved to be the puck-moving, offensive-minded player that we all know but is it far-fetched to say he was a defensive liability? I don’t believe so.
Obviously, this is a very small sample size but I wanted to compare Dumoulin to a player in a similar role that Pittsburgh fans wanted to see acquired. I was one of the folks that would have loved to see Franson here and I’m not saying that Dumoulin is a superior overall player but his defensive numbers have proved to be quite solid. And, while their quality of competition proves to be higher, those shot-suppression numbers put him in the same company as the likes of Alexander Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Anton Stralman.
Simply put, Dumoulin can handle his role with the Pens and should be counted on for solid third-pairing play. Maybe he’ll even sneak into the top-four?
The Pittsburgh Penguins See Dumoulin as a Must Play
My biggest concern going into training camp is that Sergei Gonchar will be average. If he is, we may be in store for the classic solid camp, good locker room guy signing and Dumoulin could find himself being pushed out by the likes of Gonchar and Rob Scuderi. It’s a scenario that shouldn’t happen and cannot happen if the Pittsburgh Penguins truly want these young defensemen to grow.
Dumoulin has shown me enough to consider him a viable full-time option on the blue line this season. I fully anticipate a lot of growth from him if the Penguins give him the opportunity to do so. Will Rutherford stick to this offseason’s philosophy of getting younger and faster?