by PuckStopsHere on 11/30/13 at 02:05 PM ET
The current +/- leader in the NHL is Dustin Penner of the Anaheim Ducks. He has a +18 +/- rating with 21 games played. He has 20 points in those games and that is good for third offensively on the Ducks.
Penner is an interesting player. He looked like enough of a star player in his first run in Anaheim that he was given a large offer sheet by the Edmonton Oilers and signed as a free agent. His time in Edmonton was up and down. It included a career best 63 points in 2010, but his other seasons were not as impressive. He was traded to Los Angeles where he was largely seen as a failure. He was sometimes a healthy scratch and he never put up more than 17 points in a year in his two plus years in Anaheim. He signed as a free agent and returned to the Ducks. Here he has been back on his game and performing at a better level than he ever has in his career. The question is why Penner seems to do so much better in Anaheim than elsewhere.
The answer comes from looking at Penner's game. He is big and a slow skater who excels when he can get set-up in the slot. He can score well from in front of the net. He has clear limitations in his game. He is too slow to be relied upon in defensive situations. He cannot penalty kill. As long as he can be paired with a forward who will feed him the puck in front of the net he can succeed. In Anaheim in both of his stints he has been paired with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry quite often and these are players who compliment him well. They are both very capable to get the puck to the front of the net where Penner is most useful. Their skills mesh together well. In other cities, especially Los Angeles, he did not have the same talented wingers to play with and he failed.
It is reasonable to look at Penner's start this season and be skeptical. He will not likely keep this scoring rate going all season. He has a 1096 PDO, which should raise alarm bells and suggest that luck has been on his side. That said, it is clear that Penner will be more successful this year than he was in Los Angeles and probably more successful than he was in Edmonton (expect for 2010 perhaps).
Dustin Penner is a clear example of the difficulty of statistical analysis of hockey players. He has the skills to succeed in certain situations and he will fail if put into other situations. His value is strongly dependent upon how he is used. His performance in Anaheim this year makes him a borderline all star candidate. His performance in Los Angeles last year had him almost drummed out of the NHL. Yet he is the same player with the same skillset. The problem is allowing him to play the role that his skillset will succeed in.
A player like Dustin Penner has clear value. A team must be intelligent enough to play him where he will succeed and not force him into a role where he will fail. He is clearly less valuable than a player who will succeed on virtually any team if given the chance, but he is clearly showing a value. Teams that are consistently able to use players like Penner in roles where they succeed tend to consistently do well. Teams that do not use him well will often fail because they are incompetent as Edmonton was when Penner player there. They could also be a team that is as strong as the Los Angeles Kings that had other players capable of filling Penner's role who did not have the same downside from his slow skating speed. Thus Penner was seen as superfluous in Los Angeles. Dustin Penner is an interesting player and his top +/- rating so far this season shows his value.
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