The Penguins definitely lost more firepower than they acquired this offseason. Losing names like Nick Bonino and Trevor Daley due to their seeking of bigger money elsewhere wasn’t an aid to the Penguins chances at a three-peat.
They acquired a few new players via offseason moves and resigned a few of their current free agents to deals. None of the signings were spectacular but the signing of Matt Hunwick, in particular, was one I’m a big fan of.
The Penguins signed Hunwick to a 3-year deal at $2.25 AAV.
To the average hockey fan, many won’t recognize the name and wonder why he got a decent chunk of money. The Penguins, in a big way, needed to find NHL capable defensemen without paying an arm and a leg. Hunwick is a great fit.
Hunwick won’t knock anyone’s socks off with his goal scoring ability, or lack there of, from the blue line. His career high is six, which he did twice. But those two seasons were his first and second full seasons in the NHL. His 19 points last year were his second highest aside from his first NHL season.
He will remind you a lot of Brian Dumoulin in the sense that his lack of offensive scoring prowess is made up by his stellar defense. Much like Dumoulin, Hunwick has good puck moving abilities. Hunwick spent some time on the power play in Toronto last season so he has the ability to run it in a dyer situation.
He thrives as a penalty killing defenseman, something the Penguins wanted to replace in the loss of Daley.
Hunwick’s two most recent seasons in Toronto saw him block a career high shot total as well as his hitting totals went up. He’s not considered a “tenacious” defenseman but he seems to have an edge that if things get out of hand, he’ll have his hand in attempting to fix the problem.
If you watched any of the NHL Playoffs outside of the Penguins last season, specifically the Toronto and Washington first round matchup, there is a case to be made that Hunwick was Toronto’s best and most noticeable defenseman.
On a roster with young defenseman such as Jake Gardiner, Morgan Reilly, and Nikita Zaitsev, the 32-year old Hunwick was the one who had the most solid, all-around performance, earning himself the chance to make some money on the free agent market.
It’s very likely that Hunwick will be on the third defense pairing with Olli Maatta. Guys like Chad Ruhwedel and Derrick Pouliot would be next if the Hunwick experiment doesn’t work out. Both have shown flashes of being capable NHL defenseman which means that Hunwick will need instant production.
Another small tidbit about Hunwick is something that may impress you.
Hunwick’s 1.06 points/60 minutes at even strength were the highest of any defenseman on the roster last season outside of Kris Letang, who we know only played half the season due to injury.
The prime years for Hunwick are trending towards the end, but the Penguins do a fine job of bringing in “afterthought” defenseman (i.e. Justin Schultz) and turning them into very good blue liners. The potential to do the same in this situation is there as long as head coach Mike Sullivan deploys Hunwick in the correct way.
We all know how often Sullivan strikes gold with his new acquisitions. This, likely, will be no different.