I've said this a thousand times, the Penguins have been hammered with injuries this season. But while they've been missing top defenseman like Kris Letang and Paul Martin, others have had a chance to step up and really show what they can do. The player who has perhaps done that the most, and who really stands out the most to me, is Matt Niskanen.
The 27-year-old defenseman was traded to the Penguins along with James Neal for ex-Penguin defenseman Alex Goligoski. Since this season, a majority of people considered that trade "the James Neal trade". However, Niskanen might as well have put on a super man cape at the start of this season because he's been a hero for the Penguins' defense.
Let's just take a quick look at some of Niskanen's stats and accomplishments so far this season...
*Has 24 points (7G-17A) in his last 27 games played
*He's had a plus or even rating in 54 of 62 games
*He's recorded 10 multiple point games
*Leads the team and NHL defenseman with 6 game winning goals
*Leads the team in +/- with +31
*Leads team blueliners with 37 points (9 goals, 28 assists)
*Second among team D-men with 101 hits
*Has reached a career-high 9 goals and 37 points
*He is the only Penguins defenseman to play every game
*He went on a streak of being plus or even in 21 straight games (+13) from Nov. 13 - Dec. 21
*Had a career high 6-game point streak (2 goals - 7 assists) from Jan. 10-23
*Logged a career-high 29:44 minutes against NYR Dec. 18
*Collected his 100th NHL assist against TBL Oct. 12
That's a lot to be proud of.
He's not flashy and doesn't score as many goals as Erik Karlsson or PK Subban but he's just as good or better defensively. He's become a leader on the Pens' defense because of injuries. It may have taken a season, but Matt Niskanen has found his place in Pittsburgh and he's clearly comfortable. He ranks 12th in the NHL for points by a defenseman and is on pace for 12 goals and 38 assists for 50 points and a +/- of 43. There's no telling where the Penguins would be without #2.
So does all this success warrant at least a Norris nomination? I'd say so. I want to know what you think! Tweet me @Elisaa58