He isn’t Ryan Kesler or Thomas Vanek, two players GM Ray Shero pushed hard to acquire, but the Pittsburgh Penguins did manage to acquire a right winger who will most likely play alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz in Lee Stempniak.
The Penguins sent the Calgary Flames a 2014 third-round pick in exchange for Stempniak, whose career will find new life in Pittsburgh.
The 31-year-old from West Seneca, NY might not be known as a prolific goal scorer, but during his career he has never played with anyone as close to as talented as Crosby. Stempniak is a guy who can play up to 30 shifts per game and has to be excited to be given a chance to play with two Olympians who just returned from Sochi with gold medals. He also is moving from a team that was 14 points out of a playoff spot to a team with a stranglehold on the Metropolitan division.
It obviously hasn’t been announced yet where in the roster Stempniak will play, but this move doesn’t make any sense if he is placed anywhere other than the top line. Ever since Pascal Dupuis went down for the season with an injury, the Penguins have continuously been trying to find someone to fill his spot, and no one thus far has worked out.
Brian Gibbons has been the guy lately, but he’s way out of his element playing on the top unit. Stempniak has 616 NHL games experience under his belt, compared to just 22 for Gibbons, and will be much more comfortable in a pivotal role. Gibbons is much more suited for a spot on the third line with Brandon Sutter and Taylor Pyatt or Joe Vitale.
Newly-acquired Marcel Goc was quoted as saying he would play wing if that’s what the coaches prefer, even though he’s played mainly center throughout his career, but Stempniak still has to be the leading choice for the role on the top line. Goc will most likely be placed with Tanner Glass and Craig Adams.
The main difference Crosby and Kunitz will have to get used to is that both Dupuis and Gibbons are a left-handed shot, whereas Stempniak is right-handed. It shouldn’t take more than a few practices to adjust, but it’s something little that will be worth watching in his first few games with the Penguins.
He might not be as talented as Dupuis, Kesler or Vanek, but Stempniak is definitely a step up from Gibbons, and Shero most likely went into these last few days wanting to improve the depth at forward. That’s something he has certainly done.
Stempniak will have 21 games with the Penguins to get comfortable before the postseason begins, and it’s difficult to predict what the lineup will look when that time rolls around, but he will play a huge role as the Penguins push for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
After nine seasons in the NHL, Stempniak is finally given an opportunity to shine on a team that is a serious Stanley Cup contender, and he will certainly make the most of it.