Dominik Simon

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Grove: Pens Need To Determine How Dominik Simon Best Helps The Team

Bob Grove
February 01, 2019 - 10:39 am

While the clock ticks toward an inevitable move by general manager Jim Rutherford to improve his team before the Feb. 25 trade deadline, there’s an equally interesting process in progress for Penguins’ coach Mike Sullivan.

Figuring out where Dominik Simon best helps this team.

The 24-year-old Czech is the only Pittsburgh player who moves around Sullivan’s lineup more – without moving out of it – than Bryan Rust. That’s a tribute to Simon’s skillset and a measure of how much Sullivan values his presence on the ice. Simon’s place in the lineup down the stretch and into the playoffs may depend on what new player or players Rutherford provides his coach, but finding Simon a relatively consistent fit would certainly help the young winger.

Simon has spent the past two games playing the right side with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, and he made a terrific read in setting up Crosby’s goal in Wednesday’s 4-2 home win over Tampa Bay. Simon hadn’t played with Crosby in almost two months, but he has started more games with him (14) than any other center, delivering eight points. And he’s literally played with them all.

Simon has started 12 games with Evgeni Malkin (five points), nine games with Derick Brassard (four points), five games with the departed Derek Grant (three points) and two games with Matt Cullen (one point). He’s started three games on the fourth line, 13 on the third line, 12 on the second line and 14 on the top line heading into tonight’s game against Ottawa. He’s started 26 games on left wing, 16 on the right side.

He’s averaging exactly .5 points-per-game in his 42 games, and pushing that production to another level while playing on the top line remains his biggest challenge. He’s been streaky finding the scoresheet this season, but his constant movement around the lineup can hurt those efforts as much as playing with Crosby can help them.

Related: Grove: Malkin's Second Half Goal? More Goals

Simon has good speed, can be a diligent forechecker and has a knack for being around the puck and winning battles. He hasn’t had the chemistry with Malkin that he enjoys with Crosby, and he was consistently playing with Crosby when a lower body injury knocked him out of the lineup for eight games in early December. That’s when Rust graduated to that spot and went on the biggest scoring surge of his career, so Simon had to wait his turn to get back there.

Now he’s back, so it’s time to find a little more scoring consistency to complement the other parts of his game if he wants to stay on the top line, and he might be in the process of doing that with eight points in his last 11 games. Although there have been a few bumps, he’s got a good defensive conscience and has the hockey IQ to not only play with Crosby and Guentzel but provide them space to take a few more offensive liberties. The only regular forward on the team this season whose CF% is better than Simon’s 55.0 is Crosby (56.3).

Simon already occupies a unique place in Penguins’ history. He’s their only skater drafted after the fourth round (he was taken in the fifth round 2015) to play NHL games in each of the first four seasons that followed his draft selection. The only other Pittsburgh player selected after the fourth round to do that was goalie Nick Ricci.

Now he needs to find his place in the Penguins’ current drive toward the playoffs.

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