Boom or Bust?

Finally, it is almost time for hockey season.

As we get closer to training camp and the preseason, you have to wonder “who will by far exceed their individual expectations” or “who is most likely to fail at meeting their individual expectations?”  Those questions will be answered here, and this is how it works:

I selected some players who I feel will clearly fall in either the “BOOM” or “BUST” categories this upcoming season.  I also rated those players on a highly likely, likely, unlikely, very unlikely scale within each category.

“BOOM”

Derick Brassard

BOOM factor: unlikely

Brassard had a very small stretch last year where he looked like the Brassard that Pittsburgh was expecting.  However, after returning from an injury, he was mostly ineffective and struggled adapting to the third line center role.  It is also important to consider that Brassard certainly isn’t getting any younger, and it may be that his best years are behind him.  I would say the odds are with Brassard in exceeding expectations, but I wouldn’t quite take it to the bank.

Matt Cullen

BOOM factor: unlikely

Dad is back.  It was clear after reading multiple articles from multiple sources that Cullen’s presence in the locker room was missed dearly.  But how will his on-ice performance be?  He had 2 great years in Pittsburgh, but followed that up with a below average season in Minnesota.  Although Cullen is 41, I think he gives it everything he has left in the tank to take one more shot at the Cup.  Although I am not confident he exceeds expectations, I feel like he will.

Jack Johnson

BOOM factor: likely

Johnson was the Penguins’ big addition in the offseason, and boy has it gotten a TON of reviews spanning from awful to brilliant.  Here is to saying it will be more brilliant than awful.  Johnson had a rough season last year, but he had a ton going on personally with his bankruptcy and that probably messed with his on-ice concentration.  Johnson is also very close to Sidney Crosby and I would bet that Sid had a lot to do with this move being made, and I don’t think Johnson will let us down.

Matt Murray

BOOM factor: likely

Coming off of 2 Stanley Cups, Murray proved to be human after all in the 2017-18 season posting a .907 save percentage and a 2.92 GAA.  Not to make excuses for him, but there are a ton of factors that could have contributed to this down slide:

  • Murray unfortunately had to deal with the death of his father.  This is not easy for anyone to deal with, let alone a professional athlete.  I’m sure it was on his mind in the latter half of the season, and I’m sure it affected his play at least a little bit.
  • This was Murray’s first year as the starter.  Yes, he was a huge catalyst in the Penguins’ 2 Cup wins, but in each season there was a good portion where Marc-Andre Fleury was the guy, not Murray.  So a decline in numbers may be simply getting used to the workload of being a starter throughout an entire season.

I’m confident Murray trained hard this offseason.  According to multiple reports he has been working on his areas of weakness, notably the glove hand and 5-hole.  I am very confident that last year was just a phase.  Expect Murray to bounce back and be a unanimous top 5 NHL goalie by the season’s end.

Brian Dumoulin

BOOM factor: likely

Dumoulin has been a defensive staple alongside Letang for the past couple of seasons, and may be the Penguins’ most consistent defenseman despite not being talked about very often.  Well, I’m here to tell you that he will continue to exceed his expectations.

Dumoulin’s strength has always been his defensive game.  But last season, he clearly proved that he is working on developing his offensive game without taking anything away from his defensive responsibilities.

If Dumoulin can continue to build off of what he did last year, then he may just be setting himself up for a career-best year in the NHL.

Kris Letang

BOOM factor: very likely

Letang is the ultimate scapegoat for Penguins’ fans.  When the Penguins play well, Letang is viewed as one of the players that is contributing most to their success.  But when they struggle, Letang is often the one most blamed.

Letang certainly struggled last season.  He had flashes of greatness, but had flashes of terrible play.  It is important to remember that Letang had offseason surgery on his neck and did not have the time to train properly for the season.

Through multiple sources, I have read that Letang’s offseason workouts were absolutely ridiculous, and Letang was even quoted as feeling “a million times better.”  You really think Letang doesn’t feel like he has something to prove? Look for Tanger to assume his position as a top 5 defenseman in the NHL, which is what he is when he is at the top of his game.

“BUST”

Daniel Sprong

BUST factor: unlikely

Despite many people believing that Sprong can be an extremely effective NHL player, I feel like there is a slightly better chance that he ends up being a “bust.”

First of all, the coaching staff, notably Mike Sullivan, clearly does not like the way Sprong plays.  He spent all of last year in Wilkes-Barre despite guys like Carter Rowney, Tom Kuhnhackl, and co. getting ice time in the NHL. Sprong’s talent is undeniable, but I don’t quite believe in the coaching staff to utilize him correctly.

I think there is still a chance Sprong becomes a great NHL talent, but I believe that will come with getting consistent top 6-top 9 minutes and playing with guys that can feed him the puck.  Temper your expectations just a bit, but there is clearly elite potential.

Phil Kessel

BUST factor: unlikely

Yeah, I know, I love Phil too.  But hear me out:

Kessel is coming off of a career year playing most of that time alongside Evgeni Malkin.  However, Kessel certainly isn’t getting any younger, and he had a complete dud of a playoffs which is extremely un-Kessel-like.

I do not believe Kessel is going to see a huge decline in numbers, however I do think that he is going to produce a little less than the fanbase expects him too.  Could he go out and put up 100 points this year?  Absolutely.  However, I’m feeling there’s a slightly better chance we see a slight decline in production from Kessel.

Zach Aston-Reese

BUST chance: likely

Aston-Reese came into the league this past season with promise.  He even saw some ice time with Crosby and was pretty effective in that role.  But when it comes down to it, Aston-Reese is a bottom 6 forward on this team, and so he needs to produce from that spot in the lineup.  The problem is that he didn’t last year.

He has plenty of potential, and could still blossom to be a solid bottom 6 guy, but I just don’t see it.  You would like to see a guy like him net maybe 10-15 goals with say 30-35 points, but I just don’t see that production coming out of him.

Aston-Reese should be on the opening night roster, but I wouldn’t expect much out of him this year.

Casey DeSmith

BUST factor: likely

DeSmith earned the backup job over Tristan Jarry mid-season, and actually ended the season with the best stats line among himself, Murray, and Jarry.  Despite DeSmith’s strong year, I do not see him repeating this performance next season.

DeSmith is 27, and is not really considered a “prospect,” and yet just found his way into the NHL this year.  Although I have nothing but respect for DeSmith in regards to his path into the NHL and the work he put in, I think this year he will get exposed by NHL talent.

I do believe DeSmith is a fantastic AHL goaltender, but he is a borderline backup in the NHL.  I would expect a step backwards from DeSmith this year if he ends up being the one backing up Murray to start the season.

Dominik Simon

BUST chance: very likely

Why is this guy even on the roster?  Yeah, I understand Crosby likes playing with him and that he “skates hard” and all that, but the guy just simply can’t produce even when playing with the best player in the world.

The expectations for Simon certainly aren’t even that high, but I am nearly 100% confident that he will not meet those expectations.  Simply put, Simon is an AHL talent, and that’s it.  If he actually starts the year off by playing next to Sidney Crosby and thus bumping guys like Sprong, Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin, etc. down the depth chart, then we have major issues.

PHOTO: Dominik Simon grades out as a bust in LTP’s Boom or Bust ratings. (Courtesy of NHL.com)

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