Grades for Pittsburgh Penguins' Free-Agency Signings so Far
The Pittsburgh Penguins solidified their 2014-15 lineup almost completely under the radar in the first week of free agency.
General manager Jim Rutherford and his staff did a marvelous job of finding the right supporting cast for Sidney Crosby and company, while their biggest offensive acquisition, Patric Hornqvist, was brought in just days before.
The two forward acquisitions—Blake Comeau and Steve Downie—are two gritty, hard-hitting hockey players who can finally bring a level of physicality to the Pens’ game. Sure, the team was frightening in the skills department, but no one was capable of providing that intimidation factor.
The one signing that did catch the league by surprise was veteran defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who declined a number of lucrative offers to join the Penguins.
The Penguins signed five new free agents, and I’ve taken it upon myself to grade each one of them. Read on for my verdicts.
Christian Ehrhoff, D
Let’s start with the big fish.
Thirty-two-year-old German defenseman Christian Ehrhoff reminds me a lot like Brooks Orpik. He’s a big-minute defenseman capable of shutting down his opponents while never hesitating to block a shot. Unlike Orpik, however, his career hasn’t taken a drastic dip in performance.
It’s obvious to see why Rutherford would want to bring in a guy like Ehrhoff. He's a great defenseman who has a certain quality that the Penguins desperately need on the blue line: leadership.
The Penguins have a budding defensive crop consisting of Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin, Derrick Pouliot and Simon Despres. Each of these guys is 22 years or younger with Maatta being the youngest at 19. They have a lot of untapped potential, but what they need is a teacher who will provide valuable insight to the game that Orpik and even the current veterans can't.
Ehrhoff is an awesome addition to the Penguins defense skill-wise, but his real impact will be on the youth of the team.
Steve Downie, LW
On offense, the Penguins have a very strong center position with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brandon Sutter and Marcel Goc anchoring each of the four lines. The problem the team had before, however, was finding the right people to play on their peripherals. With the exception of the second, the lines last season were constantly in turmoil. With Rutherford’s new acquisitions, consistency is going to be the goal.
Ex-Flyer and former villain Steve Downie is one of those recent acquisitions. He brings a sense of grit that, as I stated earlier, the Pens haven’t had in a while.
Downie isn’t a goal scorer like Jussi Jokinen or Jams Neal was, but he has the ability to complement skilled forwards rather nicely with his knowledge of the game. Did I mention he hits like a semi, too?
If you look at the Chicago Blackhawks, you see a lot of talent in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. But what people overlook are the Andrew Shaw-type players. Shaw is a pest who knows how to get under his opponent's skin in a way that generates offense.
Downie will be the Shaw of the Penguins.
I’m giving the Downie signing a B-plus because he is coming off a season where he only scored four goals. He will have to adjust his game slightly in order to contribute more.
Blake Comeau, LW
Former Columbus Blue Jacket Blake Comeau is the new face of the fourth line.
He will provide the coaching staff with versatility because he can play either wing position. Thanks to his 6’1”, 202-pound frame, the 28-year-old Saskatchewan won’t be pushed around either. A good shot and the ability to go on long goal streaks are added bonuses.
However, The Hockey News states the Comeau needs to sharpen his game up in a few different areas if he wants to stick around in this league.
“[Comeau] must find a level of consistency in all facets of the game in order to earn an NHL paycheck. Can disappear for stretches. Doesn’t shoot enough...”
While he is an upgrade to the bottom six, he still is the biggest question mark of all the new Penguins.
Taylor Chorney, D
Taylor Chorney is a defenseman who has spent time in the AHL with the St. Louis Blues' affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.
Despite hanging out in the minors as a 27-year-old, Chorney has had success with the Wolves. Last season, he was the team captain and posted five goals and 20 assists as a blueliner.
The Penguins are hoping his success in the AHL translates to the big leagues. If it doesn’t, there are no real worries. He signed a one-year, $500,000 contract, so if things don’t work out, it’s not a huge loss.
Chorney is a good insurance signing who may skate onto the ice at the Consol Energy Center if a defenseman goes down with an injury. If that does happen, look for him to go above and beyond in order to earn a regular spot on the Penguins roster.
Thomas Greiss, G
The signing of ex-Arizona Coyote goalie Thomas Greiss was a very confusing one. I get that starting netminder Marc-Andre Fleury has a lot of questions surrounding him, but that's not what I'm concerned about.
Why have the Penguins given up on Jeff Zatkoff? He had a solid rookie season, posting a GAA of 2.61 and a save percentage of .912 in 20 games.
Greiss’ 2013-14 season stats weren’t that much better. In 25 games, the German had a 2.29 GAA and a save percentage of .920.
It seems the Pens are looking for more experience to back up Fleury. Greiss’ five years in the pros trumps Zatkoff’s one.
Looking past all that, there's no doubt Greiss is a fine goaltender.
The Hockey News gives him a pretty good scouting report: “Has excellent puck-stopping ability, as well as the ideal demeanor for the goaltending position. Honed his craft well in Europe, and has usually put up very good numbers at lower levels.”
If Fleury tanks again in the playoffs next year, fans should at least be thankful to have a safety net in Greiss.
His acquisition is a bit curious, but his goaltending skills earn him a nice B.