When the Penguins signed Derek Grant in July, your first question, if you were like me, was…
Then, if you’re also like me, your next question was…
After all, the Penguins had just signed Matt Cullen a few days before. Which was a few weeks after they re-signed Riley Sheahan. Which was on top of them already having Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Derick Brassard on the depth chart at center.
By signing Grant to a 1 year/$650K one-way contract, that meant the Penguins had six centers for four lines. As the summer has progressed into September, it seems as if the Penguins are determined to convert Brassard to wing, but that still leaves five centers.
Matt Cullen was on the surface a sentimental signing. It sure wasn’t based on his body of work in 2017 when he had a career-low 40.5 Corsi For percentage. Or his 22 points in 79 games, the lowest since his injury-shortened 2003-2004 season.
He was signed because, as Jim Rutherford said at the time of the deal, the Penguins missed his leadership and veteran voice in the locker room. And by veteran, he means veteran. This is his age-42 season. This is also my age-42 season, but I’m a civil engineer and not expecting to get smashed into the boards on a nightly basis and try to outskate players half my age for 6+ months.
But at $650,000, Matt Cullen is perfectly fine to be a faux-coach in the locker room and on the ice. He’s eminently scratchable. He’s not expected to be a key cog. Just win some faceoffs, kill some penalties, and get the troops pointed in the right direction at the right time.
Which brings us back to Derek Grant. At the same $650,000, Grant is also eminently scratchable, if need be. But upon further inspection, Grant may have been a very underrated, affordable pickup by Rutherford.
The 28-year old Grant has been a journeyman through his career. He’s played for Ottawa, Calgary, Buffalo, Nashville, and last year for Anaheim. His 2017-18 season was the first real look at consistent playing time he’s had. In 66 games, he had 12 goals and 12 assists, which were 12 more goals than he scored in his previous four NHL seasons.
Grant had a stellar 53.1% faceoff win percentage, which was probably one of the main reasons of Rutherford’s interest. If you dig deeper into Grant’s stats, his points/60 minutes was 1.86. Across NHL forwards with at least 600 minutes played, Grant’s 1.86 points/60 was 95th out of 335, a very respectable figure. In contrast, Cullen’s 1.42 points/60 was 212th. Grant’s points/60 were probably buoyed by an unsustainable 18.5% shooting percentage (that percentage would have led the Penguins last year among regular players, ahead of Malkin’s 17.6%).
Grant received some penalty killing time, so if needed he can do that, too. In essence, Grant is a younger (much younger) version of Cullen on the ice. He doesn’t have his gravitas in the locker room, though, so that’s why Cullen is on hand. Basically, Rutherford is trying to get a 4th line center for $1.3M by smashing Derek Grant and Matt Cullen together. Derekmatt Cullengrant, if you will.
As long as both parties are of the understanding that there may be some press box time in their future for each of them, this could be a very fruitful pairing. The Pens have a very deep bottom six potentially this year, but that means that at some points of the season some egos get bruised. If everyone can swallow their pride occasionally and keep their eye on the prize, it can work.