Name: Dustin Penner, Los Angeles Kings
Position: Left Wing
Height/Weight: 6 foot 4, 249 pounds
Seasons with the Kings: 1 ½
What’s his role? Aside from providing comic relief with his dry wit and intelligent banter, Penner’s on the team to score goals. He doesn’t play on the penalty kill, rarely sees power-play minutes and doesn't spend a lot of time defending below the faceoff circles. Kings coach Darryl Sutter just asks that he work his tail off during 5-on-5 play, use his massive frame to create space for himself and others, and finish his Grade A scoring opportunities at least half the time. He pretty much did none of the above the first 14 months with the Kings, landing in hot water with the coaching staff and irritating fans. Nobody was ready to cast him off for good, however, and he has repaid them with a stellar playoff run.
What has he done lately? After scoring just 10 goals in his first 90 games with the Kings, few expected anything more from Penner heading into these playoffs. He proved otherwise right from the start, notching the game-winning goal in the opening-round game against the Vancouver Canucks. He had the primary assist on the score-tying goal in Game 1 of the second-round series against the St. Louis Blues, and later banked in an empty-netter from about 175 feet away to ice the 3-1 victory. Penner may have cemented himself in Kings’ lore earlier this week in Game 5 of the West finals against the Phoenix Coyotes, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to lift the Kings to their second Stanley Cup final in franchise history.
Where will you find him on the ice? Penner primarily plays on the left side but isn’t shy about going wall to wall when the Kings are on the forecheck. He’s often the first player in on a puck battle, using his broad shoulders to create room to work. Don’t look for him to be the first player in on an odd-man rush, however. He’s much more effective coming up from the back side and scouring for a loose rebound, much like he did on his game-winning goal earlier this week.
What does he do best? Penner has the best one-liners on the team, evident by the string of beauties he unleashed when he stepped in front of the microphones Thursday. On the ice, he’s a fine mixture of size, strength and finesse. He plays smaller than his build, but he’s quicker than he looks. He’s most dangerous in the corners, where he can use his body to create space and a quick first step to escape the defensive pressure. From there, he’s as quick and skillful with his hands as anybody on the Kings, usually getting off a shot before the defense can recover, or often times sliding a crisp pass to a teammate on the opposite post.
Another comparable athlete: Penner can be one of the top players in the NHL when he’s focused and determined. When he’s not, he's a huge liability. Sound familiar Laker fans? Andrew Bynum is an even bigger physical specimen than Penner and can dominate a game like few others in the NBA, but when distracted or disinterested he can coast like a Soap Box Derby winner. The difference with Penner is he has been extremely consistent in the postseason, while Bynum remained hot and cold. Maybe that’s why the Kings are still playing and the Lakers are not.