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Could Familiar Face Revitalize New Penguins D-Man In Pittsburgh?

The BU connection is strong in Pittsburgh

Matt Grzelcyk has played hockey his whole life, and he’s never known anything other than playing the sport in Boston. That will change in 2024-25 after the veteran defenseman signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Inking Grzlecyk to a one-year, $2.75 million deal was one of a handful of short-term deals general manager Kyle Dubas made on the first day of NHL free agency last week. Now, after growing up in Boston — where his father worked at TD Garden — playing his college hockey at Boston University and playing the first eight years of his NHL career with the Bruins, Grzelcyk will get a look at hockey outside the Hub.

However, it won’t be without a familiar face or two. Most notably, the deal sparks a reunion between the 30-year-old and former BU coach David Quinn, who coached Grzelcyk for three years on Comm Ave during his days as a Terrier.

Grzelcyk was unsurprisingly solid at BU, especially in his junior and senior seasons when, under the watchful eye of Quinn, he posted 20-41-61 totals in 68 games. The blueliner graduated to the NHL where he had varying levels of success with the Bruins, contributing a career-high 28 points in the 2022-23 season before enduring a forgettable 2023-24 campaign when his production fell off. Grzelyck also dealt with injuries, producing just 11 points in 63 games for the Black and Gold while seeing the ice in just three of the Bruins’ 13 playoff games.

The Penguins obviously hope a change of scenery can get him turned around. Head coach Mike Sullivan is a Massachusetts boy himself who also is a BU alum, and given his run as a veteran NHL bench boss, he’s familiar with Grzelcyk’s game. Reuniting with Quinn, though, is the big one, especially with the former San Jose Sharks head coach tabbed to lead the power play. Grzelcyk’s defensive game is hampered by his size and aptitude in his own end, but there’s no doubting his skating ability or his prowess with the puck on his stick.

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The Pens could use a shot in the arm on the power play, which is where Grzelcyk’s skills should be most appreciated. Despite a top-heavy roster with future Hall of Famers up front and on the back end, Pittsburgh’s power play ranked 30th in the NHL last season, clicking at a paltry 15.3% rate.

Grzelcyk’s possession numbers have dropped off some in recent seasons, and an emerging group of young defensemen made it easier for the Bruins to let the hometown kid walk. The skill set is still tantalizing, though, and few people in the hockey world know his game as well as Quinn. For relatively low money on a short-term deal, adding Grzelcyk makes sense for a Penguins team trying to thread the needle between rebuilding and competing for a playoff spot.

Featured image via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images