The Penguins signed Arron Asham to a one year, $700,000 contract on Friday. Asham has spent his the majority of his NHL career with Atlantic Division rivals in the New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers. He's small (5'11, 205 pounds) and mainly known for his pugilistic skills. So why did a team that already boasts Eric Godard and Mike Rupp on the roster bother adding Asham?
To be frank (and this is no secret), the Penguins don't have much at the wings. Chris Kunitz is a legit top forward but other than that the cupboard is bare. Evgeni Malkin may shift to the wing, but that's not his natural position and not a permanent fix. Pascal Dupuis is an honest player who puts in a terrific effort, but he's coming off a 38-point season that was mainly on Sidney Crosby's line. Max Talbot is something of a "jack of all trades" type player, but he's also been a "master of none" when it comes to consistent production, as evidenced by his career-high of 26 points. Eric Tangradi has a lot of promise, but he's also a very raw player. Others, like Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, are best deployed in checking line roles.
Arron Asham isn't a typical top six forward, and for all intents and purposes his calling card is not producing points. But he is something the Penguins need: a ruthless forechecker, and a fearless player unafraid of throwing his body around or dropping the gloves at a minute's notice.
Perhaps surpisingly, Asham has a little bit of skill too. In 2002-03, in the pre-lockout days where creativity and ice space was hard to earn, he put up 15 goals and 34 points. That doesn't exactly pop off the page, and it shouldn't. But it should be noted that Asham, mainly known for his fisticuffs these days, only recorded 57 penalty minutes that season. This past season, while only skating 10:04 a night with the Flyers, Asham tallied 24 points. Again, nothing tremendous there, but consider that Ruslan Fedotenko only got 30 points all year long while playing almost exclusively at even strength with former scoring champion Evgeni Malkin.
What is the purpose of Asham's addition to the roster? Some fans asked a similar question when general manager Ray Shero inked tough guy Mike Rupp. Rupp looked like a superfluous piece, especially considering Eric Godard's presence. Rupp tallied a career-high 13 goals, and was a terrific forechecker.
Don't get this wrong, Arron Asham is not going to be a Rick Tocchet or Kevin Stevens-type power forward who will rack up an obscene number of goals just because there are some superstars. But on a team that has nothing more than 35-point potential wingers, Asham will fit right in.
Does this mean the Pens will cut ties with Godard? I wouldn't say so. This probably does make the roster a lot tougher for a younger player like Tangradi, Nick Johnson or Mark Lestetu to crack. But Asham can offer something none of them can: 648 games of NHL experience. And like the departed Fedotenko, he adds some grit in the corners and offers toughness that every NHL team craves.
Given the lack of quality wingers the Penguins employ, Asham will probably have a chance to play as big of a role as he proves he can handle. His point totals, while certainly not impressive, are about in line with whatever natural wingers the Pens have (save Kunitz), and Asham's grit and tenacity is a trait that cannot be taught or coached up. Mike Rupp proved to be a valuable signing, and given the opportunity Arron Asham might just do the same. He's clearly not an All-Star caliber player, but he is a very willing and capable combatant and that is exactly the type of player Pittsburgh needs to do the dirty work to open up more space for their supremely skilled centers.