COMMENTARY | In 2008, the Pittsburgh Penguins thought they had acquired Sidney Crosby's future winger when they traded a package of players, picks and prospects to the Atlanta Thrashers for Marian Hossa.
Hossa is now in Chicago by way of Detroit, but the Penguins indeed found Crosby's winger in the deal in Pascal Dupuis.
Dupuis was viewed as an unheralded throw-in to the Hossa deal, the first smash trade of GM Ray Shero's tenure and one that was finalized in the dying moments of the 2008 trade deadline. After playing parts of six seasons in Pittsburgh, Dupuis may still be unappreciated by those who insist that Crosby, a top-flight centerman, needs a top-flight right winger to realize his potential.
However quiet it always seems to be, Dupuis' production has been that of a prototypical first-line winger.
At 33 years old and in the final season of a two-year, $3 million contract, Dupuis is currently fifth in points on a high-scoring Pittsburgh Penguins team. His seven goals rank second on the club, ahead of reigning MVP Evgeni Malkin and tied with Crosby, the team's leading scorer.
With 12 points in 16 games, he is currently scoring at the highest point-per-game pace of his career (.75 pts/gm).
Few professional athletes hit the most productive strides of their careers after 30, but a supporting role alongside Crosby and a favorable system employed by head coach Dan Bylsma have helped Dupuis become a reliable scorer in Pittsburgh.
Dupuis has 10 full seasons of NHL experience as well as parts of two others, and only four times has he reached the 30-point plateau. Five seasons passed between his first, a 48-point campaign with the Minnesota Wild in 2002-03, and second, an 18-goal, 38-point season with the Penguins in 2009-10. Since 2009-10, though, Dupuis has topped 30 points in three consecutive seasons, with campaigns of 38, 37 and a career-best 59 points in 2011-12.
The charge that any NHL player could produce at that level alongside a player like Crosby is lost in Dupuis' most recent campaign.
Crosby played just 22 games last season while still recovering from head and neck injuries before spending the final 15 games of the year on a line with Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke. As a result, Dupuis bounced up and down the lineup, a testament to his versatility if nothing else.
Despite the lack of consistent linemates or an All-Star centerman like Crosby, Dupuis still managed to produce career-best numbers (25-34-59, plus-18 rating) in 2011-12.
Dupuis finished off his career-year with a 17-game points streak (19 including the postseason), the longest streak by a Penguins player since Crosby's 25-game run in 2010.
Though his production has gone up in almost each year with Pittsburgh, Dupuis remains one of the biggest bargains in hockey. At a cap hit of just $1.5 million, he makes as much as many third- and fourth-liners while producing at a level commensurate to players making $5 and $6 million per season.
His production in 16 games this season isn't an aberration. Dupuis has been scoring at a first-line level since joining Crosby's wing in the 2010-11 season. All this scoring is the icing on Dupuis' versatility cake, which sees him able to play any of the first three forward lines and more than 2 minutes of shorthanded TOI per game.
However, the most staggering part of Dupuis' game is that virtually none of his scoring comes by way of the power play.
Through the first third of the 2013 season, Dupuis has just one power-play goal. It's his only man-advantage point of the season, and already matches his power play productivity from all of last year, when he had one PP assist.
Though it was his career-best offensive year, Dupuis found just one of his 59 points on the power play (and tripled that mark on the penalty kill, where he had 3 shorthanded goals). Take away man-advantage points and Dupuis becomes the 10th-highest scoring player in the league in 2011-12, ahead of teammates Chris Kunitz (61 points in '11-12) and James Neal (81 points in '11-12).
Last season, Dupuis was the only NHL player to score 25 or more goals without registering one on the power play.
The speedy Penguins winger is turning the trick again this season, scoring 11 of his 12 total points at even strength. That's more than Penguins stars James Neal (5 ES points) and Evgeni Malkin (7 ES points), and trails only linemates Crosby and Kunitz.
Pittsburgh may have holes in its top six, but not on the top line. Conventional wisdom still seems to hold that Dupuis isn't a true first-line winger and that Crosby could be even better with a genuine sniper on his wing.
A simple look into the numbers shows otherwise.
James Conley covers the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and is a Penguins contributor at The Hockey Writers and Editor at SB Nation's Pensburgh. He owns the Pittsburgh Sports Blog Slew Footers and has attended Penguins home games with credentials.
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