If preseason rumors are to be believed, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been trying to find a defenseman for Pierre-Olivier Joseph. They had a roster full of NHL-caliber defensemen and had to make a decision between keeping him or Ty Smith on the opening night roster.
They didn’t find a suitable return for Joseph, and since Smith was still free, they sent him back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and kept Joseph in the big club.
It worked out great for both the penguins and Joseph.
Not only has Joseph shown that he belongs in the NHL, he’s making a pretty compelling case that his role needs to be expanded within the defense. Especially when some veteran players continue to struggle.
Joseph’s development is so exciting for the Penguins because he represents the type of player they really don’t have a lot of. a young player with skill that could actually have a long-term future with the team.
His totals this season don’t really jump off the page, scoring just two goals with nine assists in 32 games. But he doesn’t get a ton of power-play time, and he’s mostly relegated to the third pairing without meaningful minutes.
But when you examine his underlying numbers, he’s an upside in almost every possession category. The Penguins have over 50 percent in total shot attempts, expected goals, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances and are outscoring teams nearly 2-1 (27-14) when he’s on the ice through the 5. Game on -5. He also seems to be building more and more confidence with the puck and is consistently getting things done. He has also seen a boost in his offensive production with two goals and four total points in the last eight games.
Now it should be noted. he does so with mostly protected minutes.
He’s near the bottom of the usage chart when it comes to ice time (only about 15 minutes per game in all situations, only about 13 minutes in 5-on-5) and starting zone assignments, usually getting the call in offensive situations. : Those are mellower minutes, which is pretty typical for a young player with limited NHL experience.
The thing is, if you have a player who handles them well in those minutes, it only makes sense to expand that role to see if he can handle more.
Especially when you have other players in bigger roles that show they can’t handle those roles. This isn’t meant to be Brian Dumoulin and Ian Ruuta’s continued stack, but at some point you have to adjust usage based on results and what’s going on.
Maybe Joseph gets a bigger role and struggles. Maybe you’ll find that he’s just meant to be a third-pair player. Do you still need those guys? But at least you know and have some idea of what you need. If you increase his role and he plays well, you’re solidifying an important spot in your lineup and possibly starting to fill the spot for the long haul.
At this point, there is little reason for Joseph to see less ice time than Dumoulin and Ruuta.
He’s done everything asked of him in his current role and at least got a chance to see what else he can do in a bigger role. I find it hard to believe he’ll do worse than the alternatives right now in those minutes, and could even improve.