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Matt Cullen leading way for Penguins

Veteran forward's presence, versatility key for Pittsburgh

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- Matt Cullen does not immediately stand out amongst the Pittsburgh Penguins' offensive weapons.

It's difficult to emerge from the shadows cast by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and others. But without being regularly considered a key contributor, Cullen has proven to be dangerous throughout his two seasons in Pittsburgh and could be again early in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Cullen decided to return to the Penguins after briefly contemplating retirement last offseason. That choice was ultimately pivotal for Pittsburgh with the 40-year-old playing an elevated role because of several injuries to high-profile players late in the regular season.

 

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Versatility has defined Cullen's time in Pittsburgh. He's played almost every position throughout the lineup from first-line left wing alongside Crosby to fourth-line center.

That ability to adapt to any position has led Cullen to score more than 10 goals in each of his past two seasons after scoring 10 or fewer in his previous three.

"He's been really huge for us," said Patric Hornqvist, who has played on Cullen's right wing. "He's a veteran player. He knows what kind of position he's going to play and what kind of role. Sometimes it's the first line and sometimes it's playing on the third line."

Though Cullen's production is valued in the locker room, his veteran leadership has been his most touted asset. On a roster with several young players, the two-time Stanley Cup champion (2006, 2016) has set an example forwards like Tom Kuhnhackl, who played on Cullen's left wing late in the season, can follow.

"He's obviously a guy you look up to," Kuhnhackl said. "He's been through so much. He's won Cups. He's been in the League for so many years. He's experienced everything, so it's obviously awesome to have him on the ice and around the locker room.

"If you have any questions, he's always there for us. He helps us out. He's obviously a person we look up to."

Cullen usually provides some of Pittsburgh's most blunt analysis following a loss. That was the case after a 6-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on March 26.

"I don't think that's representative of the team that we have," Cullen said. "That wasn't a good effort. … I think we all expected a better effort out of our group. We didn't come with it."

That attitude is appreciated amongst the Penguins and has led to Cullen becoming one of the locker room's more respected players.

Because of that, even as injured players make their way back into the lineup, Cullen's value should not decrease. When the Penguins are healthy, he will transition into a valuable cog on the fourth line, where he provides them with much-needed depth.

"He's just a great player overall who can adjust to different situations out there in a heartbeat," Hornqvist said. "He's been playing 1,300 games. That's a lot. Any player should go up to him, talk to him and get advice on all the small things out there."

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