Looking Differently at Dustin Penner

With the percentages getting higher and higher that the Oilers stand pat and do very little more to upgrade their current roster for the upcoming 2009/2010 season, one has to wonder where the production will come from in respect to the Oilers current line-up.

The Oilers traditionally lacked that superstar player who can change a game. Some might argue Ales Hemsky's ability to do so and a case can be made there as every game Hemsky was able to obtain at least two or more points, the Oilers won all but one (Maple Leafs on Nov 13, 2008). The problem for the Oilers is that Hemsky doesn't have that consistency needed to be a sole reason for the Oilers to win games: 27 games he played in, he didn't get on the board at all and when he did score he only had two game winning goals all season for a guy considered to be the Oilers best player.

Furthermore, if Hemsky were to "break out" what would the difference be in his totals? I've listed his current stats since 2005, with a projection of what 2009/10 might look like:

2005/06: 77 points in 81 games
2006/07: 53 points in 64 games
2007/08: 71 points in 74 games
2008/09: 66 points in 72 games
2009/10: 85 points in 80 games (four game winners)

That would be nice, but not something the Oilers could rely on to get them into the playoffs. We'd be kind to suggest he gets 5 more goals and 5 more assists than his closest totals in 2005.

What Edmonton will need, is a player who can take that next big step and go from a player who produced a little to someone who exploded offensively (we'll exclude defensman in this conversation). Since we likely don't have that superstar on our roster, who would be the logical choice to be the next Oilers difference maker?

Here's possibly one option.

Dustin Penner

If Penner finds himself an Oiler come the start of the season, he should have the ability to bust-out as an offensive threat and a go-to guy for Pat Quinn and co. Penner has new coaching, which he badly needed. He's got an almost completely clean slate (no one ever totally ignores a players reputation and previous statistics) and according to Edmonton Oilers strength and conditioning consultant Simon Bennet, Penner's in the best shape of any off-season in his NHL career so far. Knowing that, what could Dustin Penner do if he were to break-out (and I'm not talking acne here folks)?

I'm not one to blame the previous coaching for the Oiler woes, but if there ever was a case to be made for a player who saw a direct correlation between his performance and what happened with the coaching staff, it was Dustin Penner. In 2008/2009, Penner spent a lot of games as a bottom six forward when he shouldn't have. MacTavish chose to use Penner as an example (in some cases perhaps rightfully so) and with every change MacTavish made, Penner's production dropped. That was a mistake.

Unfortunately for MacTavish, the numbers didn't suggest that such moves would improve or help increase Penner's production and in hindsight likely should have kept Penner in the top six, resulting undoubtedly in a better year.

Why? Despite Penner's ability to play ok with almost all of his linemates, having gotten points with every line he was on, I truly believe a lot of his inconsistency last year had to do with the constant movement from line to line and new mates every night. When it was showed Cole wouldn't mix, Penner was moved. When the kid line didn't have a similar start like it ended the previous season or other lines didn't mesh despite the first line playing alright, Penner was moved. If Penner had a bad game or looked sheepish, Penner was moved. All in all, Penner was moved a lot. Sure, the rest of the roster was too, but it greatly affected Penner's game.

With all that, Penner had a lot of positives. He had five game winning goals which was an increase over his previous year and tied his career best in Anaheim, despite not being put on the ice in last minute pressure situations towards the end of the year.

In many cases he was effective on the man advantage yet was moved the second unit and as a result, his production suffered. In 2008/2009 he finished the year with 13 power-play goals. Last year he had 5. Granted the man advantage was not very kind to the Oil last year, but perhaps some of that could be attributed to the lack of net presence that Penner effectively provides.

He ranked 6th on the team in ice time above only Robert Nilsson who is arguabely a top six forward, clocking in at 17:12 in 2007/08 to last years 15:22. So too, he ranked seventh in shots on net with 137 where as the year before and in Anaheim he showed he was not shy about shooting letting it go 201 and 200 times respectively.

There are two things we should know by looking at Penner's history. He plays well with excellent linemates. In 13 minutes a game but with Cory Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, Penner netted 29 goals. When he played with Hemsky in 2007/2008 he hit the back of twine 23 times. Not bad considering it can be argued the Oilers don't have talent on the team that resembles either Getzlaf or Perry. When he played with lesser mates as would most players, his numbers dropped. When he wasn't with the best the Oilers had to offer, they really did.

Also, when Penner is played effectively on the powerplay and in pressure situations, he seems to shine. Last year, he wasn't there nearly enough and the numbers reflected it.

Penner has become a much better two-way player in his three years, leading the Oilers in plus/minus at plus -7. This number despite the fact he was in position more often to see those numbers get worse. That's a good sign and something Pat Quinn is a fan of knowing how little he likes to line match.

It's safe to assume that in every category Penner will see an increase in production as a direct result of the opportunities to improve given by Pat Quinn and Tom Renney. What will be interesting, is whether or not Penner can improve to the level we consider him a game changer or break-out performer. Let's hope so, because like Hemsky, when Penner has a multiple point game, the Oilers win. They did so in every game last year that it happened.

I had earlier disputed the idea of Penner getting 30 goals when suggested by my co-writer here. The more I look at the numbers and how I see Quinn and Penner as a much better match, 30, even 35 isn't out of the question.

4 comments:

These are the arguments I made on the Team 1260 for the better part of last year. Mac-T almost ruined him. This team, as is, will make the playoffs. Coaching is the difference. You do not hear of any Mac-T coaching in the NHL rumours at all...do You?
GarbageManBrian

Anonymous
August 4, 2009 at 10:50 AM comment-delete

It is true that while many were quick to say MacTavish would be offered a coaching job in the NHL right away and added his name to openings in places like Minnesota, Dallas, Colorado and others; very little seems to show that Mac-T was ever in consideration.

That said, I'm not of the opinion Mac-T is a bad coach, I just think he'd run his coarse here, his coaching suffered because he was a tired coach and he struggled to find new ways to reach a different style of team.

August 4, 2009 at 11:05 PM comment-delete

agreed I think penner and osullivan will be huge for the oilers this year.

Anonymous
August 18, 2009 at 8:14 AM comment-delete

Hey insider,

As you realize both Penner and Nilsson have been two of the favorite whipping boys of this organization. Timo Seppa, from Puck Prospectus, recently emailed me some data on a new metric for evaluating players--ESTR. Penner and Nilsson ranked number 1 and 2 respectively on this new metric (Oilers)for evaluating players at even strength.

Here's the data:

ESTR

September 3, 2009 at 1:02 PM comment-delete

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