The Pittsburgh Penguins announced today that center Matt Cullen will be returning to the team for the 2016-17 season after inking a one year, $1 million contract. The 39-year-old was primarily seen on Pittsburgh’s fourth line, but he was still able to rack up 32 points (16 G, 16 A) in 82 games — he was one of only three players who played in every game for Pittsburgh. Cullen also contributed six points (4 G, 2 A) during the Penguins’ magical playoff run.
Speculation had persisted regarding whether general manager Jim Rutherford would have the financial flexibility to sign Cullen following the re-signing of defenseman Justin Schultz.
After today, it appears that, even with very little money to spend, Rutherford was determined to bring back the same roster that left San Jose, Calif., a few short months ago. Nineteen of the 20 players on the roster for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals will be returning — all except defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who (as a free agent) signed a three-year contract with the New Jersey Devils.
Cullen is an integral part of this Penguins team. His ability to play defense and still score gives head coach Mike Sullivan the freedom to switch lines according to exhaustion or injury.
Entering his 19th season, Cullen still has more in the tank. Even if he only puts up half of his point total from last season, his leadership, discipline and professionalism makes Cullen him an integral part of this team — more than just an asset on the ice.
Last season, depth was one of the Penguins’ advantages. Bringing back a seasoned veteran who has been working out since the end of the season will only continue to be successful Pittsburgh.
Still, there is the possibility this move may stunt the growth of up and coming players such as center Oskar Sundqvist. However, bringing back a contributor of Cullen’s caliber will only have a positive effect on the team. Look for Cullen to take on a role as a mentor this year. Of course, he’ll still show flashes on the ice, but he’ll also be leaned on as a resource to help grow the budding talent on the Penguins’ roster.
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