Penguins' Zigomanis is the right man for the job

Penalty-killing, faceoff skills fill gap

Seemed like a pretty reasonable move at the time.

Just not a terribly significant one.

The Penguins needed a capable faceoff man -- ideally, a right-handed one -- and got a chance to acquire one at a deep discount when Phoenix made Mike Zigomanis available in early October, about a week after he went unclaimed on waivers.

Precisely what the Penguins gave up for Zigomanis in the form of "considerations" isn't known, although it is believed he cost them significantly less than the $20,000 waiver fee Zigomanis would have commanded a few days earlier.

But even if the Penguins had paid that sum -- or more -- it would have been a shrewd investment, based on his productivity to date.

"When you make a deal like that, you're hopeful you can bring out the best in that player," general manager Ray Shero said. "Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't."

Well, this one has. In a big way.

Yes, Zigomanis has been terrific on faceoffs, going 130-70 for a success rate of 65 percent. In the process, he has helped to boost the Penguins into sixth place in the league rankings in an area of the game in which their performance has run the gamut from abysmal to awful in recent years.

"He's one of the best in the league at winning faceoffs," coach Michel Therrien said.

Winning two-thirds of his draws would be enough to justify Zigomanis' place on the roster, but he hasn't been one-dimensional. Fact is, he is more than contributing in the other facet of the game, penalty-killing, in which he has a history of success.

Zigomanis has teamed with Jordan Staal on their top penalty-killing tandem. He is logging an average of 2:57 of short-handed ice time, more than any Penguins forward except Staal (3:23).

His effectiveness on faceoffs and killing penalties has translated to an increased workload at even-strength and when the Penguins have a man-advantage. Zigomanis is averaging 35 seconds of power-play time per game, more than triple the 11 seconds he got with the Coyotes last season.

Zigomanis said he is "happy with the way I'm being used," and that's understandable. But his role has been expanded because of his effectiveness, not as an act of charity by his bosses.

"He's doing a good job killing penalties," Therrien said. "We're trying to give him some time on the power play as well. He earned our trust."

Zigomanis scored the Penguins' only goal in their 3-1 loss Saturday to Vancouver at Mellon Arena and has, in 18 games, surpassed his offensive output in 33 games with the Coyotes last season. He has two goals and three assists, up from two goals and one assist in 2007-08.

"He has a little offensive upside," Shero said. "He was a scorer in junior."

It's true that Zigomanis was a 40-goal guy in each of his final two seasons with Kingston in the Ontario Hockey League. His game has evolved since he turned pro, however, and he has settled into a decidedly blue-collar niche.

The Penguins don't count on him to be a major force in their offense and, with the talent they have up front, he shouldn't have to be. There's a place for guys with his talents, however, and it's not just good fortune that his game has proven to be such a good fit for this team.

Shero and his staff maintain lists of players they might be interested in acquiring, be it through free agency, a trade or waivers, and Zigomanis was a fixture among their waivers candidates. He ended up there (even though he ultimately was acquired in a trade) because the team's pro scouting staff concluded he could bolster one of the soft spots in the Penguins' lineup.

"Our scouts did a great job identifying Zigomanis," Shero said. "They felt the hole we had, they really identified that [he could fill it well]."

Even at that, Shero allowed that "without disrespecting the player," Zigomanis has exceeded his initial expectations "just because of the fact he has been a very good fit for us."

In more ways, really, than anyone associated with the team anticipated when Shero and his Phoenix counterpart, Don Maloney, wrapped up their negotiations on that low-profile trade for Zigomanis Oct. 9.

"It turned out really, really well for us," Therrien said. "He's a player we needed."

Dave Molinari can be reached at . First Published November 24, 2008 5:00 AM


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