Dispelling Myths – Dustin Penner

By , August 5, 2009 10:27 pm
Penner Dry Humping Stuart

Dustin Penner before MacTavish had him neutered

With Craig MacTavish (and his player criticisms) out the door, there are a few players on this team who are going to have a fresh, clean slate in the NHL again and another chance to make their name for themselves. The biggest (pun not intended) opportunity for improvement this year will be Dustin Penner.

Last season, Penner was publicly criticised by Craig MacTavish in the interview heard ’round the NHL: “He’s not competitive enough or fit enough to help us, so why put him back in? He’s never been fit enough to help us. We thought the contract was a starting point for him, but he views it as a finish line. I can’t watch it, certainly not for another two and a half years”. We all know the story behind that, and how well MacTavish’s motivational speech worked. So why do we want this guy back?

Well, for one, we’re stuck with him. But, for two, he actually can be a factor on this team.

“But Dustin Penner is a fat ass”, you say. Well, Dan Tencer had a recent interview with Simon Bennett (Oilers Strength and Conditioning Consultant). After the interview, Dan Tencer’s twittered: “Simon Bennett reports that Dustin Penner has had great dedication in his off-season training”. To me it seemed to be pretty standard fluff, however it certainly is refreshing to hear when compared to stories about Dustin Penner being a meatball. Mind you, it should also be noted that last year reports at the start of the season said that Dustin Penner was in great shape (I can’t find the link, but I believe even Lowe said this). It did sound like from the Bennett interview though that Dustin Penner was very commited to improving his conditioning. So let’s look past that, for now, and wait until the season starts. But chances are, yes, he’s still a fat ass.. but he’s a more streamline, toned fat ass.

So let’s talk about what he has done right: the powerplay.

Ignoring the players that saw limited PP action, Dustin Penner had the highest 5-on-4 GFON/60 (powerplay goals the team scored while he was on the ice, per 60 minutes of ice time he saw) at 6.88. He’s still the number one option on our powerplay with that big-body presence of his. As such, I’d slot him in the #1 PP LW spot and never take him off of it. He’s consistently made the powerplay better. Whether or not he’s the one getting the points, his huge-frame parked in front of the net is going to wreak havoc on a goaltender, especially with Sheldon Souray raining hell from the blueline.

The powerplay also noticeably suffers with him off the ice. In the 5-on-4 GFOFF/60 (powerplay goals the team scored while he was off the ice, per 60 minutes of powerplay ice time) category, Dustin Penner ranked in just barely behind Gagner (5.36 and 5.34, respectively), and the Big Bomber, Souray (4.13). If I’m writing the powerplay lines next year, our top powerplay is Penner Gagner Hemsky. Book it.

So outside of the powerplay, what options are there for Penner? What do we do with him at even strength?

The top line: Penner already has proven chemistry with Hemsky, and vice versa. In fact, I would almost say that Hemsky’s ability to be Hemsky is effected by whether Penner is out there or not. The truth is, Penner really does free up ice for Hemsky. Proof of that is in last year’s “Even Strength Goals For With Teammate” stat, provided by Hockeyanalysis. The ES GF/20 with Hemsky and Penner of 1.244 is his higher than that of any other player Hemsky has been on the ice with (aside from Peckham, and we can obviously discount that number). That’s right. Hemsky’s line works best if Penner is one of the linemates. Dustin Penner obviously needs to produce more to be as effective as possible, but this is a telling sign that Hemsky (and other teammates) benefit from Penner as much as Penner benefits from Hemsky. Sometimes being that guy parked in front of the net is a thankless job.

Powerplay Specialist: Feed him large powerplay minutes. He wouldn’t be the first guy used as a “hired gun” in a specialty role. Unfortunately he may not be as effective at it as some of the other examples (Kotalik instantly comes to mind), but he’ll serve the purpose well on our current roster. As for even strength, his ice time would be dependent on his on level of play vs. that of other members of this team. Feed him as many minutes as he proves worthy. And if he doesn’t come out to play, bury him in the bottom six.

Pair him with 1 or 2 of the kids: Some have suggested playing him on line 2 LW with Gagner at centre. On the right side would likely be Nilsson. This has been tried before, and again, going back to Hockeyanalysis, it worked fairly well. Much like we saw with Hemsky, one of Gagner’s best linemates is actually Penner. Gagner was rather effective last year with 3 different players: Dustin Penner (The combo of Gagner and Penner had an ES GF/20 of 1.073), Ales Kotalik (1.205) and Marc Pouliot (1.332). Granted, Gagner hadn’t really played enough at even strength with any of these guys (111:52 TOI with Penner, 120:05 with Pouliot, 83:01 with Kotalik), but that’s still a pretty good reason to think “why not try Gagner with Penner more?”.

Really, believe it or not, Dustin Penner makes certain players better. This may come as a surprise, but there are very few players that don’t see the benefits of playing with Dustin Penner. According to Hockeyanalysis‘ stats, the only player on our roster that Penner spent considerable time with (more than 100 minutes of icetime) and had a higher GF/20 without Penner than with Penner was offensive-giant Jason Strudwick (but hey, the same could be said of Hemsky in that case).

Food for thought folks. Dustin Penner is a complementary player. He definitely needs to put the puck in the net more, but his ability to make a difference often goes unrecognized because we like to look at raw numbers – goals, and assists. But if you look a bit deeper, you can see that Penner isn’t all that he seems… but in a good way.

15 Responses to “Dispelling Myths – Dustin Penner”

  1. Steve-O says:

    I would like to see how he was defensively. From what I recall, Mac T liked to go power vs. power for his first line and while it would be fine to have one defensively lax players on the first line (Hemsky, who was the offensive straw for all intents and purposes) I’m not sure we can rely on Horcoff to pick up the slack of two players.

    I understand that they score more with him on the line, but if they let in more too then doesn’t it become a wash?

    I think O’Sullivan would be a better choice (he PK’ed in LA).

  2. Bruce says:

    Excellent post, Racki. I was riding the “Penner has to be first unit PP” hobby horse all last season, and in retrospect I still think I was completely right. As for his defence, he had the best GA rate per 60 minutes of even strength ice time of any Oiler forward. He also had the best GF rate, and needless to say, the biggest plus. When paired with both Horcoff and Hemsky at evens, the trio scored 21 goals and allowed just 5.

  3. Racki says:

    Hey Bruce,

    First off, thanks for commenting, and secretly reminding me to add Copper and Blue to the blogroll ;) (clicked on your name to follow the link).

    That’s one thing I would have liked to have addressed as well too – Penner’s defensive play. It goes pretty unheralded, but I had noticed that as well too with the GA/60. Excellent point! All in all he’s benefiting the team by being on the ice. His own stats aren’t doing him justice though. But I think if he finds a regular place in the top six, that will change. He’s good for 20-30 goals each year with top six minutes. It’s no Dany Heatley, but it’s all this team needs. We just need a bit more goal scoring across the board, and I hope that Pat Quinn’s presence will help in that area.

  4. Hockey Noob says:

    Racki, one thing that’s always interested me with Penner are the optics of his boxcars vs. his advanced stats. For his salary, his boxcar numbers are simply not where they should be. On the other hand, his advanced stats look a lot better for a player with his salary.
    It will be interesting to see if they balance out somewhat under our new coaching tandem.

    I can’t recall where I actually read it (I think that it was Lowedide), but it stuck with me regardless. Someone observed that when it comes to the Oilers offense, Dustin Penner isn’t the one driving the bus, he is the bus. lol. :)

  5. Racki says:

    lol, that’s a great way to phrase it (the bus comment). But I do think Penner can bring a steady 25-30 goals per season on the top line. It’s not the most ideal situation, but heck, maybe with him on line 2 he can generate 20-ish goals. That kind of production from line 2 would help, and it would open up ice for Gagner to do his own thing. They just need another guy there that isn’t afraid to shoot the puck. I know I’m crazy for saying it, as I’m usually the first guy to bash Poo Poo, but maybe a Penner Gagner Pouliot line could work. There was a brief moment last year where I jumped off the Pouliot hate-wagon because he was firing the puck from everywhere and looking good doing it.

    Just a little random food for thought.

  6. Horpensky says:

    Great stuff Racki with the stats. Penner probably stares a picture of MacT to fuel his workouts now that he knows he’s gone. Last season we saw the mean side of him, and he’s got a pretty mean punch (unfortunately got benched once for doing so). We say Hemsky needs protection, Penner can be a solution if he wants to be.

    If Penner can pot 20+ goals (which I know he can easily), and Cogs scores another 15-20, that will replace the 40 goals Heatley scores.

  7. Racki says:

    Yah, the thing with Penner is he has all the tools necessary to be a solid power forward. We all know it, he knows it.. he just has to start using them consistently. But it’s somewhat comforting to know that even when he’s not scoring, he’s a benefit to his linemates and helping them score.

    And ya, I liked the mean edge we saw from him a couple of games. He’s got to find more of that side.

  8. Max Powers says:

    Great blog Racki. This site was an instant toolbar bookmark when I heard about it.

    I’m giving Penner one more year before I write him off. I’ve said it for a while now, just one more chance. If he can’t do it without MacT and with Quinn, he just plain and simply can’t do it.

    Remember last years first game when he had 2 goals in game #1? I was so excited. I was sure he was going to have a redemption year, but it turned out to be his worst year ever. Here’s to hoping for more consistency on the stats sheet.

  9. Racki says:

    Hey Max.. good to see you here, and thanks for the compliment ;)

    And yes, I was pretty excited and hopeful for Penner last year only to have that deflated pretty quick.

    But I’m hoping that he realizes the opportunity he has.. new coach, brand new, clean slate. He’s got to get top six minutes though, or at the very least loads of PP time.

  10. Mr.Majestyk says:

    Good analysis Racki. I’m pretty much on the same page as you when it comes to Penner. Most fans would rather bash him on a nightly basis, but as you point out, he made his linemates better. Playing with Hemsky he had a thankless job, but when Hemmer crosses the blueline and holds up, Penner goes directly to the front of the net. There aren’t too many guys on are team that do that with purpose. He takes a defender with him and opens up ice for Hemsky. Sad thing is, I really think Penner was working hard to impress MacT, but since MacT already had run ins with Penner, he was never given the benefit of the doubt. All his offnights or mistakes magnified. After a while, if you don’t feel like you are being respected or treated fairly I think you give up trying to impress someone.

    I think the team was too content with losing the last couple of years. Its been a losing culture. The more games they lose, the more they expect to lose. They went into each game saying all the right things but when the going got tough, they didn’t rise to the occassion. They give up. I hope with the new coaching staff the team will have newly found optimism on what they can accomplish.

  11. Racki says:

    Yah I’m hoping that the fresh start this year does him some good. I also hope that fans relax the hate on him a bit. A lot of what MacTavish said was true, but I think some of it was overblown. I mean, he was bashing Penner’s performance while he was playing on a checking role on line 3, at one point. Let’s be honest with what Penner is here. He’s a guy you park in front of the net to bang pucks in. All the other things he does, he does too inconsistently to consider it a part of his game.

    But one more thing to his credit, as Bruce pointed out above, he’s got a solid enough defensive game that he’ll be producing more than he’s allowing. So I think we can all jump off the hate-wagon for a bit on Penner and give him another chance (again). I’m pretty sure he’s feeling the pressure to perform as is.

  12. DropIt says:

    Hmm, I’m impressed.

    You should work in marketing Racki, you make it argueable that Penner actually has some use on that team. I bet a ciggarette company would hire you in a second to sell smokes to children :P

    Still, I’m not buying it… But I was told as a child “if you don’t have anything nice to say….”

    So I will say, well written article :)

  13. Racki says:

    lol Well, it’s a tough sell. Very tough sell. Is Dustin Penner my first choice in the league for our top winger (or 2nd line winger for that matter)? Definitely not. It’s likely that he’s here to stay though and I just think that while he can be a lazy slug, he isn’t completely as he might appear.

    I still say he’s our best shooter, and he opens up a lot of ice out there. He just needs to start making better use of his assets (and whether you think he’s lazy or not, you should still realize he does have a couple of assests – the hands and the size).

    With any luck, we can whip this donkey into actually doing some work. I think on the kid line that Steve-O suggested, he could be a factor.

  14. DropIt says:

    Penner does have very good assets, I won’t take that away from him. But a lot of players do, and he falls under the same category as Zherdev, at least in my eyes. He rarely provides NHL level effort.

    He has a great shot, and he opens the ice very well for his linemates, but as of now he lacks the vision to use the players around him when the ice is opened.

    He definately has size, and if he starts using it he could be a good power forward, but I see him being pushed around in front of the net and he loses battles along the boards more often than not.

    But mainly his skating is horrid. Which is the main thing holding him back. I always noticed him being caught going up ice from a backchecking forward or a defenceman out of position.

    Penner has shown signs of great play, but IMO he still has miles to go to reach it. And with his work ethic, I’m not sure he can reach it.

  15. Racki says:

    Well, I will give you that he lacks work ethic, but as Bruce pointed out above, the guy is still a plus player and leads the Oilers forwards in GA/60 (i.e. has the fewest number of goals scored while he’s on the ice, per 60 mins of ice time). So while he’s not Guy Carbonneau, he’s still doing well enough in his own end.

    I won’t disagree with some of what you are saying; he’s a slug on the average day and looks pretty oblivious on some nights. However I will disagree that he gets “pushed around in front of the net and he loses battles along the boards more often than not”, big time. Having seen nearly all 82 games last year plus pre-season, I can say that’s a pretty big exaggeration. But before I come off as a Dustin Penner fanboy, I will say that there definitely were nights last year where a slight wind would have bumped him off the puck and knocked him over. The year before (i.e. 07/08 season) he definitely was more effective at this though. I think the MacT comments and fans getting on him started to get to him though. It’s not at all a good excuse, but I’ll forgive the guy and hope for a better season this year.

    Again, he’s got the tools to do be a big factor here. He won’t be a 40 goal scorer or anything, and maybe he’ll never break 30. This will make it hard for him to really live up to that contract, but nonetheless that can be overlooked if he can create more ice for his linemates and pot around 25 goals.

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