Trades often set off chain reactions.
When the Boston Bruins traded defense prospect Matt Lashoff as part of a two-player package to Tampa Bay, the effect was the addition to the NHL club of a power-play threat up front and a veteran presence in the locker room in the person of future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi.
At the AHL level, the departure of Lashoff opened up playing time for first-year pro Jeff Penner at Providence. All the P-Bruins rookie has done since March 4 is put up 3-2-5 totals and a plus-7 rating while playing top-four minutes for a second-place club.
“It’s been great. Everybody loves the opportunity to get a little more responsibility,” Penner told TheBruinsBlog.net before Providence went 1-1-1 last weekend. “And I relish the responsibility and I’ll take as much ice time as I can get.”
Lashoff was dealt with the P-Bruins in the midst of their longest road trip of the regular season, which took them to six different cities over the course of 10 days. Head coach Rob Murray said that in Manitoba at the tailend of the trip, Penner actually logged in excess of 30 minutes to help Providence make it to a shootout in one loss and then hang close in a 2-0 loss the next night.
Once the P-Bruins returned to the Northeast for divisional play, Penner really hit his stride — capping off a 3-0-0 weekend for the team by scoring two goals in a win over Lowell March 15.
“I’m just putting the puck on net and eventually they’ve got to go in,” said Penner, who has totaled 10 goals and 17 assists while skating in all 71 games this season. “I’ve had a quite a few chances; I was a little bit snake-bitten on the road trip and stuff. You keep getting chances eventually they’re going to go in.”
Signed as a free agent out of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks last spring, Penner, who’ll turn 22 next month, played two games for Providence before last season closed. This season, he admittedly got off to a slow start. But his confidence has built up over the season, and in turn Murray’s confidence in the 5-foot-10, 191-pound blueliner has grown. One key to Penner’s success has been his ability to preserve his dimunitive frame in the much more physical world of pro hockey.
“He’s learned to be a little more elusive too — not to get hit — which is key. … (He compares to) a guy a couple years ago, Kevin Dallman, if he didn’t reverse hit on you, you weren’t catching him. He just moved the puck and got out of the way. It’s self-preservation really,” Murray said. “I don’t care how big you are, you never want to get hit. If you can move the puck and sidestep a hit, all the better. I think he’s getting a little bit better at that, and probably in the long run that gives him more energy out there not having to battle through the hits all the time.”
In one game last weekend against Albany, Penner and again sidestepped oncoming forecheckers with the greatest of ease to keep the P-Bruins’ attack moving in the right direction.
“Especially a guy my size, to stay healthy, I’ve got keep my head up and dodge some of those checks some of the bigger guys won’t,” he said.
Boston, like 29 other teams in the NHL, is always looking for puck-moving defensemen. This season, the Bruins benefitted from the rapid development of Matt Hunwick. Could Penner be the next puck-mover to make the leap? Time will tell. But if his confidence keeps building and he continues to improve as rapidly as he has this season, at this fall’s training camp he could force a chain reaction of his own.