With the November 19 announcement that first-line right wing Pascal Dupuis is sidelined for months with a blood clot, hockey experts prognosticated that the Pittsburgh Penguins would need to swing a trade to add depth at forward.
"Not so fast," says current Penguin Blake Comeau. With a hat trick on Wednesday to give the Penguins an overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, Comeau served notice that he's ready to make the most of his opportunity to play with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz.
The line combined to open the scoring just 26 seconds into Wednesday's game. Comeau added his second of the night midway through the second period to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead, then shared the forward duties with Sidney Crosby at four-on-four when he potted the game-winner at 2:53 of overtime.
When Dupuis was sidelined, our own Dave Lozo broke down how the Penguins have built their offense over the last two seasons and suggested that impending free-agent wingers like Nick Foligno or Jiri Tlusty, among others, could help fill the void left by Dupuis.
Patric Hornqvist has been a solid addition up front, while the jury's still out on Nick Spaling as a top line contributor. Comeau, however, now has eight goals—just one marker behind Sidney Crosby and three back of team leader Malkin.
His 13 points mark an impressive upswing for the 28-year-old, who signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with Pittsburgh, per CapGeek, after putting up five goals and 16 points in 61 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.
Comeau made an instant impact with the Penguins. He played just 11:53 in the season opener but scored the game-winning goal in Pittsburgh's wild 6-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks. As the season has worn on, his ice time has increased to the point where coach Mike Johnston has been willing to trust him with top line duties.
He has played 15 minutes or more in four of the last five games and is even seeing a bit of power-play time.
When Comeau was tagged to move up after Dupuis' diagnosis, he told Dave Molinari of the Pitttsburgh Post-Gazette that he'd stay true to his usual playing style. "I've showed [coach Mike Johnston] I play that power-style of game, hold onto the puck and protect it and I can make some plays. ... I'm not going to change my game and try to be something I'm not."
Comeau has shown in the past that he can find the net. He scored 24 goals on a spark-plug New York Islanders team in 2010-11, but he has a chance to top that number. This season, he's currently on pace for 32 goals, though, his shooting percentage of 22.9 ranks 21st in the entire National Hockey League and will probably drop over time.
As the Penguins prepare to face the Carolina Hurricanes for back-to-back games this weekend, the question now is whether or not Comeau can bring his feisty style and scoring touch to the top six on an everyday basis.
While The Hockey News praises his "good shot and offensive know-how" in their scouting report, he's also called a "streaky goal-scorer" who "can disappear for stretches" and "must find a level of consistency in all facets of the game."
If Comeau can keep contributing with Malkin and Kunitz, he'll have a chance to put those doubts to rest—and set himself up for a very nice payday when he hits free agency next summer.