|Dustin Penner: L.A.'s Newest Whipping Boy|
Penner never played major junior hockey. He was cut three times by his local junior team. He nearly gave up on playing hockey and then decided to continue his playing career for a junior college team in North Dakota. Spotted at an evaluation camp, Penner was offered a scholarship to the University of Maine, where he helped lead the Black Bears to the National Championship Game. After one year of college, he signed as a free-agent with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. He spent two years in the AHL and then was a member of the Ducks 2007 Stanley Cup squad.
In the offseason following the Cup win, Penner signed a 5-year, $21.25 million offer sheet with the Edmonton Oilers that went unmatched by Anaheim. Penner instantly became the whipping boy of then Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish.
"When we signed Dustin we thought he'd be a top-two-line player. We thought the contract ($4.25 million average for five years) was a starting point for him but he views it as a finish line. I can't watch it, certainly not for another 21/2 years."Now, it's early on but can't you see Terry Murray and Dean Lombardi saying those same words right about now. 2 goals in 22 games for the Kings.
Penner's response to MacT's criticism back in 2008.
"It's time for me to bring that part of my game (competitiveness) up ... that's a part of my game that's always been harder for me to attain.."Three years later, Penner hasn't been able to 'attain' it. Fans want to remember Dustin Penner as the emerging power forward that complimented the finesse and skill of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on 'The Kid Line' for the Ducks. He played his best hockey then. His most well-rounded game. He was getting 13:59 of ice-time in the regular season and 14:05 of ice-time in the playoffs. Eight other Ducks forwards averaged more ice-time than Penner in the postseason.
That's just about right for Penner. He's a solid third-line player that needs good playmaking forwards around him to produce. If Kings fans expected anything more from Penner...well shame on us.
He's not your classic big body forward. He shys away from the physical game but has a gifted set of hands when he has the puck on his tape. The problem for him is getting the puck. You'd think a guy that's 6'4, 245 would dominate along the boards. Protecting the puck. Driving the net. Sort of like...Alexander Frolov.
But Penner stays away from the boards. He does his best work from the hash-marks in. Watch him. He'll coast into the offensive zone and then just camp out about 15-20 feet in front of the net hoping a teammate finds him in the slot for a one-timer.
His biggest issue is his lack of foot speed and skating ability. He's been extremely exposed in this series by San Jose's transition game and the speed of their forwards. He can't keep up. He can't even hustle to the bench to get a change. His lack of foot speed was none more evident than on Devin Setoguchi's OT Winner in Game Three. The puck is in the net and the Sharks are in the locker room celebrating by the time Penner even enters the zone.
The fans and media continue to blame his conditioning for the reason he looks so lackadaisical out on the ice. At first, I wasn't buying it but after watching numerous Youtube clips; I think Penner is definitely out of shape (even by Penner standards). The Dustin Penner Kings fans are seeing this season is the same player that debuted in Edmonton after signing his 5-year deal.
Watch these highlights from the 2009-10 season when Penner netted a career-high 32 goals and you won't recognize him. A season ago Penner was driving the net, parking his big frame in front of the net, deflecting shots, engaging in physical play, etc.
What's the immediate solution? Drop Penner down into the bottom six. His best performance came in Game Two when he saw 14:35 of ice-time; his worst performance obviously came last night when he played 19:36. Move Alexei Ponikarovsky up to the top line. Poni's game has improved over the last month. He uses his big frame. He plays the body, drives the net, and skates well. Everything Penner is lacking from his game right now.