Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Alas, Janne, we hardly knew ye


In one of the more unsurprising Penguins-related news (and Wild, but more on that later), winger Janne Pesonen, a former Finnish League scoring champion, returned to Europe, signing a contract with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL, according to Hockey Sverige, a Swedish site.

Pesonen spent most of the 2008-09 season in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he set a new Baby Penguins' single-season scoring record with 82 points (30 goals), which was fourth in the AHL. That never translated into the NHL, where Pesonen played in seven games with the big club but failed to register a point.

In his defense, playing fourth-line minutes with fourth-line scrubs like enforcer Eric Godard or Chris Minard or Bill Thomas isn't an environment conducive to a "skill" player like Pesonen to put up points. Meanwhile, Pascal Dupuis, who isn't exactly a "finisher," continued to see minutes on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby until the acquisitions of Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin.

Having said that, maybe management and/or coaches saw something in Pesonen's game - or perhaps, did not see something - that led to the belief that Pesonen wouldn't be able to cut it in the big league.

Whatever the case, Pesonen never saw quality minutes with other skilled players in the NHL despite clearly showing the ability to do so in the AHL. But the AHL is a far different beast from the NHL. (Remember that fourth-line scrub I called Minard? Yeah, he was one of W-B/S's top offensive players. But he also didn't see much top-line time in the NHL. But I digress.)

The most telling statement against Pesonen is how he did not receive a call-up from coach Dan Bylsma, who perhaps more than anyone else knew what Pesonen's skill set included and whether he'd be able to produce. The only thing I can think of as to why Bylsma didn't give Pesonen a shot was because the Penguins had their backs against the wall and Bylsma felt he couldn't afford to give a "trial period" to a guy like Pesonen. Once the playoffs started, the stakes increased. It seems to me you'd want to give Pesonen a test run early in the season or when the team is playing well, not when it's struggling to stay afloat.

Having said that, desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Penguins were definitely desperate when Bylsma took over, but obviously not desperate enough to give Pesonen a legitimate chance.

Here's the part about the Wild: They could use another top-six forward. (So could the Penguins, by the way.) But neither they nor any other NHL team seemed to be beating down Pesonen's door. GM Chuck Fletcher, overseer of that Baby Penguins team, apparently wasn't overly impressed by Pesonen either. Maybe he saw in Pesonen another Pierre-Marc Bouchard, a small (Pesonen is 5-11, 180), play-making type who's not overly enthusiatic when it comes to putting the puck on goal or to bump an opposing body, and elected not to have two of those types on the team.

Obviously there was something lacking in Pesonen's game, but the Penguins weren't exactly ripe with top-six wingers last season - at least before the trade deadline - and the Wild's offense, while it might improve, likely won't burn out a tremendous amount of red bulbs, but it's got to be a little curious that Pesonen didn't get more of a chance.

No one's ever mistaken Petr Sykora (6-0, 190) for a rugged, tough, no-nonsense guy, and all he's done in the NHL is tallied 10 straight seasons of 20 or more goals.

Pesonen was a low-risk option who might've panned out or might not have. So, Janne, alas, we hardly knew ye.

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