SUNRISE, Fla. --
As the NHL anxiously awaits the return of Sidney Crosby
, the Pittsburgh Penguins
continue to roll along.
Even after Thursday night's 4-1 loss at Tampa Bay, the Penguins are tied with Philadelphia for most points in the Eastern Conference with 25. That probably shouldn't be too surprising given the number of stars on the team besides Crosby, such as Evgeni Malkin
, Jordan Staal
, Kris Letang
and goalie Marc-André Fleury.
, meanwhile, continues to quietly contribute to the Penguins' success. He may not attract a lot of attention outside of Pittsburgh, but Dupuis has been an important player for a few years.
Not bad for a guy who was considered by most -- including Dupuis himself -- as a throw-in in the trade that brought Marian Hossa
to Pittsburgh on Feb. 27, 2008.
"Yeah, he was a throw-in, I guess, in that deal and now he's a big part of our team identity," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
said after a Friday morning practice at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla. "He's a big part of our leadership in our room and how he plays and also what he says."
The 32-year-old Dupuis, who first entered the NHL as an undrafted free agent, remains a solid two-way player and he's been a big part of a penalty-killing unit that ranked first in the League last season and is second this season.
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Now in his fourth full season with the Penguins, Dupuis remains the only player involved in the Hossa deal who's still with the team to which he was sent.
Hossa left Pittsburgh for Detroit as a free agent after the 2007-08 season, and the three players sent to Atlanta in the deal have all moved on -- Colby Armstrong
is now in Toronto; Erik Christensen
is with the Rangers; and Angelo Esposito
is in the Florida Panthers
organization. The first-round pick the Penguins sent to Atlanta was used on forward Daultan Leveille
, who is now a senior at Michigan State University.
Dupuis, meanwhile, has found a home in Pittsburgh. His contract was up after last season, but he re-upped for two years before hitting the free-agent market.
Part of his desire to remain in Pittsburgh had to do with not wanting to move his wife and four children (ages 1 to 8), but the Penguins also had a lot to do with it.
"Hockey-wise, you can't beat that," he said. "You play in front of a packed building every night at home and a lot of people want to see the Pittsburgh Penguins
when you go on the road with Sidney Crosby
and everybody that we bring with us. You always play for something, that makes it fun.
"That's what you want to find in the NHL, you want to find a home. You want to find a fit where you're comfortable. The group of guys we have here, it's a special kind of group and I think I fit right in. I'm really happy to have found a home and found a good team like that, too. You have a chance to win the Stanley Cup every year and a chance to win every night -- not a lot of teams can say that."
As he had with his previous three teams -- Minnesota, the Rangers and Atlanta -- Dupuis scored a goal in his first game with the Penguins. But there was little reason to think at the time he'd become as important a player as he has.
His role began increasing significantly last season when his average ice time jumped from 14:11 in 2009-10 to 16:52. He's averaging 17:11 so far this season.
"Since he got here, everything clicked," Fleury said. "He's a fun guy in the locker room and he always works hard on the ice, gives 100 percent. Everybody on the team appreciates what he does."
Dupuis, nicknamed "Duper," certainly appreciates his teammates, particularly the chance to play on the same line as Crosby at times over the last few years.
Dupuis has 4 goals and 8 assists in 19 games this season, putting him on pace to top his career high of 48 points, which he set with Minnesota in 2002-03. He also sports a plus-6 rating.
While Bylsma credits the improved scoring output to Dupuis getting close to the net more often, the native of Laval, Quebec, can't put his finger on a reason.
"I only know how to play one way, and that's 100 percent," Dupuis said. "I try to bring it every night and right now they're going in and things seem to work. It's one of those things where I didn't change much, it's maybe a little more confidence. I don't know, years are different."
The reality is the Penguins don't need big offensive numbers from Dupuis. His role is to work hard, kill penalties and set a tone. It's a role he's filled very well, even though it maybe has gone unnoticed.
"Pascal is a significant part of our team, where he fits in, where he plays, what positions he plays," Bylsma said. "He's played wing on our top line, he's played wing on our second line, he's played wing on our third line as a checking guy, penalty-kill wise. We want to play with a lot of speed and aggressiveness; he has that in his game.
"He's a guy who leads our team a lot of times in details, what we're trying to do. He's a guy we want on our team. He's a Pittsburgh Penguin. He plays like a Penguin. He has the details. We're a hard team to play against for a lot of reasons and he adds a lot of those reasons."