Sometimes, it’s funny how things turn out in life.
As the National Hockey League trading deadline rolled around two seasons ago, just about anybody with an opinion on the game believed the Penguins needed to find a long-term linemate to pair with Sidney Crosby
The desired prerequisites for such a winger – speed to match that of Crosby, a deft goal-scoring touch and the desire to work for pucks along the boards and in the corners.
On Feb. 27, 2008, those wishes were answered when general manager Ray Shero shipped popular forwards Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen, prospect Angelo Esposito and a 2008 first round draft pick to the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for wingers Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis
It’s not surprising the Penguins pulled a top-line winger out of that trade. After all, at the time of the deal Hossa was in the midst of notching at least 29 goals for the eighth consecutive season, and was less than a year removed from a 43-goal, 100-point career year.
And despite his acrimonious departure a little over four months later, Hossa was everything the Penguins could have asked for – well, except in one regard. He never did provide that long-term option next to Crosby. But that’s OK because the “throw-in” from that trade – Dupuis – has quietly developed into one of the Penguins’ best wingers, and a frequent Crosby linemate.
“They seem to put me there year after year,” Dupuis said. “I am not going to complain about it. Pittsburgh has been a great fit for me and my family,” Dupuis said. “I had a lot of fun down in Atlanta too. That said I am really happy to be here, especially hockey-wise. It’s been unbelievable.”
Actually, when you think about it, Dupuis’ story is actually quite believable.
Although it might not appear so on the surface, when you break down the skills Dupuis brings to the table, you realize how suited they are to mesh with the talents of Crosby, particularly this season as Dupuis embarks on one of his best NHL campaigns.
Dupuis credits his success, which includes five goals in 16 games since the break, tied with Crosby for most on the team during that span, with driving to the net more to pick up the garbage goals you often see come playoff time.
“I think I am going more to the places where pucks are going in from at this time of year – going to the net, driving for rebounds, tipping pucks in or having them go in off your shin pads,” Dupuis said. “The pretty goals will still go in but the hard-working goals go in a little more.”
Head coach Dan Bylsma says this transformation by Dupuis, who is two tallies shy of tying his career-high total of 20 set with the Minnesota Wild in 2002-03, is not only the reason Dupuis has been finding the back of the cage with more regularity, but also a key factor why the 30-year-old winger has spent the better part of the past month once again flanking Crosby on the Penguins’ top line.
“Pascal has been known for a big shot down the wing to score goals,” Bylsma said. “Earlier in the year, he was the forward whose shots were farthest away from the net on average. Now he continues to score goals in the blue paint by going to the net and picking up second chances and digging in and around for rebounds.
“That’s not something that Pascal was known for before, but he has been going there with regularity to get it. He added something new to his game, and that’s why he has been playing on the same line as Sid for a while now.”
Dupuis credited his improvement to a talk Bylsma and the coaching staff had with the team about doing a better job as a team of getting traffic to the opposing net.
“After the break we had a little meeting with the coaches and that is something that came up,” Dupuis said. “Since then we started doing it. It’s helping me and the team right now.”
Since Dupuis came to the Penguins a little over two years ago, he has spent time on a line with Crosby in each of his three seasons with the Penguins. However, until this season, Dupuis was never able to convert such opportunities into prolonged goal-scoring stretches.
Among Penguins wingers who have spent the entire season with the team, only Bill Guerin with 19 goals, has scored more often than the 18 notched by Dupuis, whose rediscovered goal-scoring touch would make him a highly sought after commodity following this season.
But the Penguins won’t have to worry about that because Shero had the foresight to give Dupuis a three-year contract following the ’08 season, meaning the versatile will be back for another season in the black-and-gold in ’10-11.
“If you look back at where we have been the past couple of years, I am pretty happy. I am pretty happy to be part of it. You go to the Final one year and you win it the next. It’s been special.”
Not a bad ride for a supposed “throw-in.”