NEWARK, NJ Its hard to believe that Dustin Penner all 6-foot-4, 249 pounds of him wasnt always the power forward behemoth that hes become in the NHL.
The 29-year-old is picking a good time to get hot in the playoffs with 17 points (7 goals, 10 assists) in 15 games after an underachieving regular season with free agency awaiting him in the offseason.
Penner is known for his quick wit, and production in the playoffs has made him a regular Carrot Top with his teammates.
My level of play tends to make me funnier than I already am, said Penner, with a smile showing where one of his top teeth is missing in true hockey fashion. But Ive been lucky. Ive played with great players here. I played with great players in Edmonton, and the same thing my first few years in Anaheim.
My first two linemates in Anaheim were Sergei Federov and Teemu Selanne, so that gives you a pretty good idea. Its the curse of being a big guy, though. Playing with guys like that you stick out like a sore thumb on the ice if youre not moving your feet.
Thats been Penners modus operandi at times throughout his career, and the Cup Finals is where he originally made his name during his first full NHL season with the Anaheim Ducks during their Cup run in 2006-07. It got him a gigantic offer sheet from the Edmonton Oilers that had then-Anaheim GM Brian Burke in a bubbling rage, and settled him with the Oil prior to his arrival in Los Angeles.
But Penner wasnt always cut out of the power forward mold, and really was a late bloomer in most every respect. He was a 120-pound hockey weakling with bountiful skill and little size up until his junior year of high school, and then had to regain his coordination as he grew to be a very large man.
Ive been on both sides of the coin. I wasnt that big in high school. I was barely 5-foot-6 and 120-pounds. I shot up a lot at the end of high school and going into college, said Penner. I had some years where I had 100-something points. I was always trying to be a playmaker, passer and a scorer, and I remember Dan Bylsma telling me that I had to find some part of my game to hang my hat on and work on that.
Part of that for me was using my size and strength around the net and making sure I could always factor into the game that way. Its something I had to learn once I got to college and then beyond.
The University of Maine took a chance on Penner based largely on the advice of former assistant coachrecruiter Grant Standbrook, who saw the raw hockey talent long before it had blossomed into a pancake-eating force of nature in the NHL. Penner was playing for an MSU-Bottineau hockey program out of the NJCAA that barnstormed their way across North America, and gave the big winger a chance to be seen by hockey talent evaluators.
Standbrook and Maine head coach Tim Whitehead were known for finding diamonds in the rough for their college hockey program, and thats exactly what happened with Penner.
I never played junior hockey. I played junior hockey. We didnt even have a league. We were like the Harlem Globetrotters and wed go around playing anybody that would have us: junior varsity teams and junior mens teams. Anybody that would play us, said Penner. I red-shirted for a year at Maine and got a taste for a Division I hockey practice. Then I got a taste for the game and the energy from the crowds up there. There was also a high level of coaching from guys like Standbrook. He was really a great mentor for me.
Standbrook was the same coach that recruited Teddy Purcell, Jimmy Howard, Ben Bishop and a host of other players to the University of Maine, and Penner was another one of the educated risks that worked out for the Black Bears. Penner stayed on the Orono, Maine campus for only one season depositing 11 goals and 23 points in 43 games, and then moved on to professional hockey.
Now that educated risk is getting ready to potentially celebrate the second Stanley Cup win of his career if he and his Kings teammates can manage three more wins over the Devils.