Joe Vitale Making a Case As the NHL's Best Fourth Line Center

By Jeff Ekiert
Joe Vitale
Charles LeClaire- USA TODAY Sports

Everyone knows the Pittsburgh Penguins have tremendous depth in their offense. Going back to the Jordan Staal era, the Penguins ha better depth down the middle than any other team in the NHL. Looking at their roster, one could very well make an argument that Joe Vitale is emerging as one of the best fourth-line centers in the entire league if not already the best.

Vitale is spending his fourth season with the Penguins and has brought a lot of elements he developed in the AHL in Wilkes-Barre up to the big show.

As a seventh round pick in the 2005 draft, he made his debut with the team on February 10, 2011 against the Los Angeles Kings. Though it was a thrill for him to see his first action in the NHL, he will certainly not forget his second game he appeared in for the Penguins the following night.

Who can forget the infamous New York Islanders game on February 11, the game that was seen all over YouTube as one of the most brutal games in NHL history. New York was out for blood against Max Talbot and the Penguins as gloves were dropped in what seemed like every five minutes. Vitale could say he got comfortable when he tallied an assist and his first fight against Andy McDonald. Though is was a brief fight, it was fair to say Vitale won after throwing a number of right fists at his opponent.

Just a few years later here he is solidifying himself as Pittsburgh’s everyday fourth line centerpiece. His speed and agility help spark the Penguins’ fourth line, and he always plays with an intensity as if to say he wants more minutes. In particular, his forecheck has improved this year and always finds a way to create turnovers in the offensive zone.

Head coach Dan Bylsma, who is known to switch lines throughout the game, will even place him alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin from time to time.

This season, Vitale has five assists in 20 games and 15 penalty minutes. He is establishing himself as a fine center on a team that already has two of the best in the game.

His faceoff percentage is often overlooked as well. This year, he is sitting at 56 percent on draws after posting a very good 61 percent in 33 games last season. Throughout his young career he has won 701-of-1,230 (57 percent).

That alone makes him a true role-player on this team, and Bylsma has shown great confidence in him when Pittsburgh needs a big faceoff win throughout the course of a game.

Jeff Ekiert is the Pittsburgh Penguins/NHL beat writer for Like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @jmekiert and add him to your Google account.

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