By: Melissa Esing (Off_thePost)
Throughout the 2013-2014 NHL season, I’ll be posting player features each Friday. This week, we’re going to take a look at Lee Stempniak.
The NHL Trade Deadline on March 5, 2014 left many Pittsburgh Penguins’ fans anxious, as 3 p.m. quickly approached. What moves would GM Ray Shero make this time around? With right winger Pascal Dupuis out indefinitely with a torn ACL, who could the Penguins get that could possibly have the compatibility and chemistry to play on a line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz? Among one other move, Shero brought in Calgary Flames’ Lee Stempniak in exchange for a 2014 third-round draft pick.
This was somewhat surprising to some fans, as they were expecting more. In the previous trade deadline, Shero made big moves by bringing Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen onto Pittsburgh’s roster. This year, however, was different.
According to Shero, their goal for this year was to increase the depth up front and help the forward group. These small moves could have big impact when it comes down to the playoffs and the running for the Stanley Cup Championship.
Originally a fifth round (148th overall) draft pick by the St. Louis Blues in 2003, this 31-year-old is a veteran to the league after playing with his fair share of teams throughout the NHL. Aside from the St. Louis Blues and the Calgary Flames, he has played with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Phoenix Coyotes. Stempniak was very successful in St. Louis, racking up a career-high of 27 goals in the 2006-2007 campaign.
Prior to joining Pittsburgh in early March, Stempniak had 23 points in 52 games. In the mere 8 games that he’s played so far with his new team, the two-way forward has made five assists and two goals. Not too shabby, right?
“He’s played hard on pucks, he’s won pucks, been able to support the puck and they’ve been able to get good plays, offensive zone time, because of it,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “I don’t even think he’s played his best yet. He’s only getting started, in that regard, of fitting in and being with those two guys.”
His style of playing has meshed well so far, which is exactly what that first line needed. It shows that he has been progressively getting more comfortable with every game. There have been numerous moves on the line-up in order to figure out who works best with Crosby and Kunitz, and it seems as though they found what they’re looking for. In Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Stars, all three first-liners scored a goal.
His exchange for a black and gold sweater was also huge for Stempniak, himself. The Flames are not in good shape currently with the standings. To go from a team that might not see playoff action to a team that is running away with the Metropolitan Division is an incredible opportunity. This will be his first time seeing the playoffs since 2011 with the Phoenix Coyotes.
According to Shero, Stempniak is strong on the puck, on his skates and has found chemistry with Sid. What more can you ask for? Although it initially didn’t seem like a big move for the Penguins, Stempniak seems to fit the bill well for a banged-up team.