When Dustin Penner was traded, I wasn't very happy. On a struggling team with so many players who couldn't do a thing to help an NHL team win games, Penner was able to deliver results, and handle any criticism of his play with aplomb. On a deeper Los Angeles team, I was looking forward to watching Penner continue to deliver the mail alongside Kings' top forward Anze Kopitar. When Penner first arrived, things looked good; through seven games, he had scored six points, and fans were warming to the big man. Then he didn't score a single point for the Kings' last dozen games, and had just two in Los Angeles' six-game loss to San Jose in the playoffs. Two points in eighteen games. What happened to Dustin Penner?
Things didn't exactly start off on the right foot. started getting smoked in the media, by the fans, and even by his coach. This is what Terry Murray had to say shortly after Penner had been acquired (when he was doing well!):
I don't think it's a matter of the wind. I think he's a heavier guy than what he should be. He's a big body, and I'd like to get him to be a little leaner and I think that's going to really improve his hockey game with a greater level of intensity and keeping the pace and tempo of play.
That's right out of the Dustin Penner criticism playbook: fat, slow, and lazy. I can't imagine that kind of very public criticism helped him to perform. But as Bruce showed earlier today, Penner didn't just start struggling in L.A. His game this season had already taken a downward turn. In Penner's first three seasons in Edmonton, he had taken 7.88 shots per hour of ice time (including 8.08 in 2009-10), but this year that number tumbled to 7.18 while Penner was in Edmonton, and all the way down to 6.73 in the twenty-five games he played in Los Angeles.
That decline also corresponds to what's gone on with Penner's scoring chance numbers. Last year, he was far and away the team leader, but this season he fell behind a few of the team's forwards, and in Los Angeles (with a much better team) he dropped below 50% at even strength in the eighteen games we have recorded (+51 -63 or 44.7%). Whether it's points, or shots, or scoring chances, for whatever reason, the L.A. version of Dustin Penner was inferior to the version that played in Edmonton.
Is he going to be able to come back? I think he will. He's got a reasonably long track record of success, he's still under thirty years old, and - if the motivation concerns are real - he's in a contract year. Still, after such a horrendous start in Los Angeles, Penner will need to got on track quickly in order to earn a role on the top power play unit and alongside Anze Kopitar on the Kings' first line.
Projection: 45 to 55 points and a return to the plus side in terms of Corsi and Scoring Chances playing in a variety of roles with the Kings.