Blueger Blossoming into Important Piece for Pens

Teddy Blueger (penguins.com)


Remember to follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook for continued Pittsburgh Sports coverage: 

Dating back to the Pittsburgh Penguin Stanley Cup runs, Teddy Blueger’s name is one that had popped up often as a player Penguins’ brass saw as a future contributor. They liked the little bit of offense he brought but praised his defensive game effusively.

Fast forward to Sunday night's 3-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils where Blueger scored the opening goal and he’s further proving why he’s long been seen as a potential quality NHL player.

Blueger opened the scoring Sunday with a beautiful short-handed breakaway goal where he made a nifty move and tucked the puck under Devils’ goaltender Jon Gillies’ pads for a sweet five-hole tally. The goal was another in a long line of what is now seven on the year for the 27-year old Latvian. Blueger also recorded a career-high seven shots on goal in the game. The rest of the Penguins' forwards combined for nine.

The added offense that Blueger has shown since his arrival in the NHL has only made him that much more valuable.  It was always apparent that he’d be one of the Pens’ top penalty killing forwards and would be a stalwart in the face-off circle whether the Pens needed an offensive or defensive zone draw. Those things were a huge part of his game dating back to his time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

After a 22-point effort in 43 games last season, Blueger now has 11 points in 29 games. The pace isn’t quite the same offensively but his line this season has still produced quite a bit more scoring than they they are typically expected.

Blueger centers a line with wingers Zach Aston-Reese and Brock McGinn. That line has essentially becoming one of the better would-be fourth lines in the league. I say that because, assuming the Penguins get fully healthy at some point this season, those three will make up the fourth line.

Blueger and Aston-Reese showed some chemistry together last season on a line with Brandon Tanev. Of course, with Tanev off to Seattle, the Penguins needed to find a suitable replacement, which they have in McGinn. While Tanev’s tenacity and 110% effort on every play is hard to replace, McGinn has done a more than adequate job and even shown a bit more offensive upside than Tanev thus far.

Those three have meshed to form a perfectly formidable fourth line. In their time serving as a third line, however, the Penguins have won seven straight games and reside just four points out of first place in the entire league.

Not too bad.

Centering that Third Line

General Manager Ron Hextall was able to sign Blueger to a two-year, $2 million AAV contract extension over the offseason so he’ll be here through the end of next season.  Blueger has shown signs of being a very capable third-line center, a position the Penguins have proven time and time again that they covet so greatly. Keeping a formidable presence behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is what has made the Penguins so deep for such a long time down the middle.

Nick Bonino’s departure following the 2016-17’ season left a hole on the third line. The Pens have tried to fill it with names like Greg McKegg and Derick Brassard to no avail.  Blueger held it down for most of last season before Hextall swung a deal to acquire Jeff Carter.  

Since then, Carter has kept third line center duties to complete last season. The move was more about the veteran presence and the talent Carter still possesses at his age than it was about Blueger being incapable of handling the spot.  

However, you can never have enough depth at any position, especially if you’re the Pittsburgh Penguins who constantly have injury issues.  Carter has taken over as center of the second line until injured Evgeni Malkin returns.  When Malkin does return, he’ll slide back in as the second line center, bumping everyone down a peg. Carter, who’s been more than adequate with expanded ice time, will get a more suitable role for his age on the third line, and hopefully thrive even more.  Blueger will fall to the fourth line in this case.

Carter, the former second-round pick from 2012, is another guy that worked hard through the minors to earn his spot in the lineup today in the same way that guys like Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Matt Murray did back in the Cup runs.

While, Blueger does only have one goal in eleven career playoff games, he’s never really been put in a position to score in the postseason. The playoffs are about defense and goaltending, and Blueger is among the best on the team when away from the puck.  His defensive skill is more valuable in the playoffs than his offensive.  That’s what he gets paid for.

With Carter’s status for next season up in the air, it’s good to know Blueger has shown he is more than capable of bumping up to full-time third line status next season if the situation calls for it.  He’s one hell of a player and a guy that undoubtedly is a wild card for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Comments