Dirk Hoag of the great Predators blog On the Forecheck was kind enough to answer some questions on new Penguins Steve Sullivan including questions on his injury history, ability to contribute despite his size, strengths and weaknesses, and ability to help the Penguins on the power play.

I hope you enjoy it.

Zach Boslett: Ok first things first… I wanted the Penguins to sign Sullivan last time he was a free agent but Nashville beat them to him. This time I thought his career was over. So point blank… is he toast?

Dirk Hoag: He’s not toast, but you shouldn’t rely in him to play 75+ games or 18 minutes a night. He still has good speed, outstanding vision, and a goal-scorer’s sense of when and where to get open.

ZB: Obviously the Penguins believe he has something left in the tank. Can you give us a brief (difficult with Sullivan I know) injury history on him and what kind of effect it has had on his play?

DH: This year he was troubled by a groin injury that caused him to miss the month of January. He tried to play through it as he recovered in February, but ultimately went under the knife to get it fixed, returning only at the very end of the season. Before he got hurt, he had 10 goals and 10 assists through 34 games; not great, but not awful, either.

ZB: Is it that Sullivan is injury prone? Or is he just unlucky?

DH: At his age, injuries certainly become more of a concern. Since returning from the back injury which cost him 2 years, he played every game for about 2 full seasons before this groin issue developed this year. Considering how important skating speed is to his game, I can’t say I’d be surprised if the groin issue returns at some point, but I wouldn’t say he’s particularly injury-prone.

ZB: Can you give us a quick scouting report on Sullivan for those of us who have not seen too many Predators games?

DH: Sully is one of the most agile forwards you’ll ever see, his turning radius is so tiny he can maneuver through the offensive zone effectively and really make things happen with the puck on his stick. As I mentioned above, he also has good vision for setting up teammates, and he’s got a surprisingly good one-timer for a vertically-challenged guy. On the downside, despite his speed you’ll be amazed at how infrequently he scores on a breakaway, and of course his small frame can become an issue in the defensive zone and along the boards. He’s a battler, though, and will surely earn the admiration of fans in Pittsburgh.

ZB: What role did Sullivan play on an “offense by committee” team like the Predators? Could he fit into a high tempo, puck possession type team like the Penguins?

DH: Sully got lots of power play time in Nashville, but I think the departure of Jason Arnott cost him something on the ice. He really benefits from having a center who can command the attention of a defense and create opportunities for him to jump into, and Pittsburgh should be able to provide plenty of those.

ZB: One of the most frequently asked question about Sullivan is about his size. He was listed in the Penguins press release as 5’9” 161lbs. How does he manage to remain effective all the way to age 36 at that size? Does he use his size to his advantage? Or does he tend to get tossed around like a rag doll sometimes?

DH: He’s careful to protect himself out there, but there’s no question that in physical battles he’s at a disadvantage. On the plus side, when he has the puck he can carry it close to his body and turn like a waterbug out there.

ZB: How is Sullivan on the power play? Pittsburgh has had similar power play struggles in recent years as Nashville. Is Sullivan a guy who can contribute on the power play still? Could he work the opposite half wall from Crosby/Malkin and cash in on some of those cross ice passes using his right handed stick?

DH: Absolutely, Sully can set up for one-timers like that. Often in Nashville they’d set him up on the left point for just that reason (a bad fit, though, I wouldn’t recommend doing that!). With superstars like Crosby and Malkin commanding attention, Sully could be very effective in a supporting role.

ZB: Do you think he can still be a top 6 forward in the NHL? Because as of right now, he is being penciled in next to Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. And which type of player do you think he would be more effective with (Crosby – grinding, puck possessor, hard working goals OR Malkin – East-West pretty scoring plays)?

DH: I could see him working well with both those guys, but perhaps Crosby a little better. I think you’d certainly put him up on one of those lines to get the most out of him, otherwise you’re just wasting his talents. He’s not a guy that will beat defenders consistently all by himself any more, buy can make other teams pay if they get zeroed in on a Crosby or Malkin.

ZB: Nashville has lost character guys in Ward, Goc and Sullivan to free agent paydays. What do you think of Ward’s and Goc’s destinations and cap hits? Who will step up and replace their locker room presences?

DH: Ward cashed in big-time, but given the overall rising level of salaries in the NHL, I’m not surprised. He’s a Selke-caliber winger who can put a few pucks in the net, too, and may fit very well in Washington’s new defense-first game plan. Goc is getting a nice opportunity in Florida, but I’ll be honest, I think he’s suited better as a 3rd- or 4th-line guy on a good team than a 2nd-liner on a weaker one. As for locker room presence, the Preds will be fine there. The leadership of the team largely rests with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter now, and Mike Fisher provides a nice veteran presence, too.

ZB: And lastly, what do you see the Predators doing to address their eternal scoring issues at forward? Overpaying for a lackluster free agent class is obviously not the Nashville way (nor should it be anyone’s way but I digress).

DH: As of this writing, Sean Bergenheim is still available, although his playoff run may cause the bidding to go too high for Nashville’s liking. I recently looked at a few 2nd- and 3rd-tier options that might provide some help, and most of those guys have signed already. Kyle Wellwood might not be a bad choice, but there aren’t too many left out there. I’m concerned, as I think the Preds really need two legitimate NHL wingers to suit their strategy (3 lines with a moderate amount of offensive talent rather than 1 top line), and they may not be able to afford them. A strong possibility is the trade market, given the absolute boatload of young defensive talent in the Nashville system, but that game is almost impossible to predict.

Here is some gameplay video of Sullivan in action (Check out the last video because it is gold – thanks to Empty Netters for the find on that video)

  • First and third goal here have me excited to see what he can bring to the table:

  • Shootout goal in December:

  • And this PPG has me hopeful he can be dangerous from the backside unlike any current Penguins forward:

  • Sullivan fan incident results in payback from the hockey gods: