Frozen Pool Forensics: Five Pittsburgh Playoff Performers

Cam Robinson


This week's Frozen Pool Forensics discusses the future for Pittsburgh's rookies.


Despite what you may have heard from those interviewed on the Jimmy Kimmel Show,

the Pittsburgh Penguins are your 2015-2016 Stanley Cup Champions.

A great deal of their victory can be attributed to the laundry list of what went right, a notion spreads across the entire organization. From the shrewd managerial moves made by Jim Rutherford to bring in guys like Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin, Justin Schultz, and Matt Cullen; their generational centre playing the best two-way hockey of his career; a new coach sparking the right work ethic; and of course the impactful contributions from their stable of rookies, led by a 21-year-old goaltender who took the ball and ran.

This week on Frozen Pool Forensics, we’ll take a look at the freshman seasons of five Penguins and discuss their potential in the coming season and beyond.

First up on the docket, diminutive..

Conor Sheary

Everyone loves a good underdog story and Sheary has a beauty of an underdog story. Passed over in the NHL draft four years in a row, the 5’8 175lbs winger experienced a successful, yet not eye-popping NCAA career with the University of Massachusetts recording 104 points in 138 games. Upon graduating, he signed on with the Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre Scranton and immediately became one of their best players, recording 45 points in 58 regular season games and 12 points in eight playoff contests.

His play earned him a two-year contract with the Pens, and he spent most of the 2015-16 campaign bouncing up and down between Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh before settling in Steel City for good in early March. The 24-year-old scored 7 goals with 3 assists with 8 penalty minutes, averaging 9:45 minutes in 44 regular season contests. He produced a 57.5 percent CorsiFor rating and 2.1 CF% Relative – meaning his teammates were producing more offensive chances with him on the ice than off of it.

Even Strength Line Combinations – 2016 Playoffs


Line Combination

















Skating on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist during the playoffs, the feisty American was able to score four goals – including an OT winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, and 10 total points en route to becoming a Cup Champion. He saw just under 14 minutes of ice per night – 1:12 of that coming on the second power play unit and he converted on 10.5 percent of his 38 shots on goal.

Seeing a healthy 67.5 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, Sheary was placed in a very favourable position to succeed and will be a dark horse to produce a half point-per-game or better in 2016-’17.

Bryan Rust

So, if Sheary was lucky enough to line up next to Crosby, what’s the consolation prize for Rust? Oh, right… Evgeni Malkin. Rust’s story isn’t as Rudy-esque as Sheary’s but it still has plenty of caché. The 24-year-old winger was taken in the third round of 2010 entry draft (#80), and took a similar path as his aforementioned rookie compatriot.

Lacing up for the University of Notre Dame for four seasons, Rust never produced at a point-per-game clip in the NCAA but made his mark as a very quick, hardworking, and cerebral top-six forward. It’s this ability to think the game at a high-level that has proven so valuable to the Penguins, allowed him to play with a superstar like Malkin, and thrive in a support role.

The 5’11 Michigan native suited up for 41 regular season contests with the Pens this year and produced four goals and 11 points from a mostly bottom-six position. However, once the playoffs began, the former NCAA champion found a clutch home on line two, producing six goals and nine points.

Depth is so important to any contending team, and having the ability to show up when the games matter most is tantamount to carving your own name in next year’s lineup. Rust did that, and more. His two-goal game was enough to clinch the win-or-go-home seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals and his 17.6 percent shot conversion is enough to know he was making the very most of his 11 minutes of ice with virtually no power play time.

Rust could be considered as an option in deep leagues, but it’s his buddy Sheary who readers should be targeting in drafts this fall. Until he is given more ice at five on four, Rust’s offensive ceiling will be limited.

Derrick Pouliot

The pick used to select Pouliot (eighth overall) acted as one of the main pieces coming over in the Jordan Staal trade during the 2012 Entry Draft. Pouliot was expected to quickly become a high-flying, point-producing defender who could skate his way out of any trouble he got into. Well, some questions about his off-ice work ethic landed him back in the AHL to begin the 2015-16 campaign and he had to prove he was ready to tackle top-six minutes with the big club and was handed nothing on a silver platter.

The Saskatchewan native suited up for just 22 regular season games for the Penguins this year and produced seven assists. He saw just 15:27 per night and a minuscule 57 seconds with the man advantage. He spent the majority of his ice on a bottom pairing with either Ben Lovejoy or Ian Cole – not exactly offensive juggernauts, but perhaps the perfect type of partner for the free-wheeling Pouliot.

Even Strength Line Combinations – 2015-16 Regular Season


Line Combination


                                    LOVEJOY,BEN – POULIOT,DERRICK


                                      COLE,IAN – POULIOT,DERRICK


                          LETANG,KRISTOPHER – POULIOT,DERRICK


                                 DALEY,TREVOR – POULIOT,DERRICK


                                DUMOULIN,BRIAN – POULIOT,DERRICK







Pouliot’s 47 total points in 68 AHL contests (0.69 points-per-game) spread across two seasons is a strong indication of what he could be capable of once fully acclimatized to the NHL game. However, even with Trevor Daley suffering a leg injury that forced him out of the Cup Final, Pouliot only managed to dress for two playoff games and saw an average of just 14:41. The addition of Justin Schultz at the deadline was a real hindrance to Pouliot receiving a true look this spring.

With Lovejoy potentially pricing himself out of Pittsburgh this summer and Rutherford deciding to not qualify Schultz, the former CHL Defenseman of the Year will have a chance to prove he’s capable of handling full time duty on the reigning champs. Once considered an elite fantasy prospect, this may be the year to grab him – especially coming off a lacklustre season. His value should be strong in the middle rounds.

A 30-point season in 2016-’17 is very doable and his ceiling remains high.

Tom Kuhnhackl

Tommy Kuhnhackl – the newest member of the All-Name Team – isn’t going to be on many fantasy GM’s radar going forward and for good cause. The hard hitting 24-year-old was another 2010 draftee by the Penguins – this one coming 110th overall.

The speedy German split time between the AHL and NHL this season to the tune of five goals, 15 points and 57 hits for the Penguins. He managed to pop a couple of goals, and add three assists through the 24 playoff games this spring on a very responsible fourth line consisting of Matt Cullen, Eric Fehr and himself.

Advanced Stats – 2016 Playoffs



5 on 5 SH%

Off. Zone Start %








This type of cheap depth will keep the Pens in line for another strong run next season and keep their best players on the ice at the right end of the rink, knowing that their zone is covered by a capable bottom line.

Matt Murray

Finally, we get to the crown jewel of the Penguins organizational depth chart.

What more can we say about Murray’s performance this spring. The recently-turned 22-year-old didn’t have to be the hero against the Sharks like his counterpart Martin Jones needed to be, but he was solid throughout Cup Final. His best series was probably against the Washington Capitals where he posted games with 49, 39 36 and 35 saves respectively.

He finished the postseason with a 15-6 record, 2.08 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage, and serious consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

His .923 save percentage acts as a tie for the second best mark for a goaltender aged 21 or younger in a playoff season. He sits tied with Patrick Roy and behind only Martin Brodeur (from Hockey Reference's Play Index). 

For those who didn’t know too much about Murray before this season, he was an absolute madman in the AHL as a 20/21-year old. The Ontario native took home the AHL Rookie of the Year award as well as the Baz Bastien Memorial Trophy as the league’s Best Goaltender in 2014-15. These awards were won on the backs of his impeccable 1.41 GAA and ridiculous .941 save percentage.

The 2012 third round pick (#83 overall) is the future in Pittsburgh’s net and that future has come early. Many people are predicting that incumbent, Marc-Andre Fleury has already played his last game for the Penguins, and with the expansion draft looming, they may very well be correct.

If the Penguins do decide to hand the reigns over to Murray, signing or trading for a capable backup to spell him off if the load gets too much for the youngster is imperative, but this slight-framed goaltender has so much raw talent it’s difficult to imagine he doesn’t fulfill his potential, and become a true number one.

It’s difficult to predict what his season looks like next year, virtually everything hinges on whether or not Fleury returns. If he does, look for the duo to mirror Detroit’s Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard – that is, the guy who’s hot will play until he’s not.

If Fleury is moved, Murray immediately becomes a potential top 10 goaltender as his skills are certainly there, and he’ll be insulated by a very strong cast of skaters.

Regardless of what happens this summer or next season, this kid looks like a very good bet to be a cornerstone on fantasy teams for the next decade.  


Thanks for reading and feel free to follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3 where I pretty much only talk about beards and prospects at this time of year. 

Recent Frozen Pool Forensics:

Patric Hornqvist 

Joe Pavelski 

Vladimir Tarasenko 


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