When they added Dustin Penner to the roster in a Tuesday trade with the Anaheim Ducks, the Caps cornered the market on players from Winkler, Manitoba. Caps forward Eric Fehr also hails from Winkler – a town of just under 10,000 inhabitants – and he and Penner have known each other since well before they reached the NHL.
“He grew up playing hockey with my older brother,” says Fehr of Penner. “Obviously, I’ve seen him play a lot. When their team was short a few players I’d get called up and played with my brother and with Dustin. We kind of grew up together. Obviously he’s a few years older, but we kind of grew up playing together.”
Penner was a bit of a hockey late bloomer. He went undrafted during his NHL draft year of 2001, then played the 2001-02 season at Minot State University-Bottineau in North Dakota, putting up 20 goals and 32 points in 23 games as a freshman. After sitting out the ’02-03 campaign, Penner resumed his collegiate career in Maine.
In his sophomore season at the U. of Maine in 2003-04, Penner totaled 11 goals and 23 points in 43 games. In those days, the Anaheim Ducks were seemingly always in the mix for undrafted college players every spring, and they landed one of the bigger college UFAs of that era when they signed Penner to a contract on May 12, 2004.
Penner started his pro career with the AHL’s Cincinnati Mighty Ducks during the NHL lockout season of 2004-05, putting up modest totals of 10 goals and 28 points in 77 games.
But he broke out in a big way in 2005-06.
Penner was one of many future NHLers skating for the Portland Pirates that season, and he finished fifth in the league in goals (39) and 11th in scoring (84 points) despite playing in only 57 of Portland’s 80 games. He also got his first taste of the NHL that season, scoring four goals and registering seven points in 19 games with the Ducks.
After Anaheim was eliminated from the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Ducks returned Penner, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf to the Pirates just in time for Game 7 of the AHL’s Eastern Conference Calder Cup final series between Portland and the Bruce Boudreau-coached Hershey Bears, then in their first season as Washington’s AHL affiliate.
Even with three ringers in the lineup – Penner scored twice and Perry once – Portland wasn’t able to overcome Hershey. Fehr’s overtime goal gave the Bears a 4-3 win and propelled them to the Calder Cup final against Milwaukee. Hershey won that series and the Cup in six games.
“He’s won a couple of [Stanley] Cups after that,” notes Fehr, “but for me at the time playing in the AHL and still a young pro that was a big game for me at the time and a big game for Hershey.”
That game against Hershey on May 30, 2006 was the last Penner saw of the AHL.
He racked up 29 goals and 45 points while playing in all 82 games as a rookie for the 2006-07 Stanley Cup champion Ducks team; only Teemu Selanne (48) had more goals. Penner finished fifth in the league’s Calder Trophy balloting for top rookie that season.
With his three-year entry-level deal at an end, Penner became a restricted free agent in the summer of 2007. Then-Edmonton general manager Kevin Lowe signed Penner to an offer sheet for five years and $21.25 million, and Anaheim elected not to match, so Penner moved on to the Oilers.
In his third season – 2009-10 – with Edmonton, Penner had a career year with 32 goals and 63 points. He was swapped to the Kings at the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 28, 2011, with the Oilers getting blueline prospect Colten Teubert, a first-round draft pick and a third-round choice in return. Teubert was thought of highly at the time; he was the Kings’ first-round pick (13th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
Although he played on another Cup-winning club in Los Angeles, Penner’s offensive production started to wane. He had scored 20 or more goals in five of his first six NHL seasons, but managed just 11 goals and 37 points in 117 games over two-plus seasons with the Kings.
Liberated from Los Angeles this season, Penner had success on the left side of a line with Getzlaf and Perry this season. He had 13 goals and 32 points in 49 games with the Ducks prior to today’s trade with Washington, more goals and points than he amassed during his entire stay in Los Angeles.
“He’s a really big guy who has proven he can score and he can play on pretty much any line on our team,” says Fehr. “I’m not exactly sure where he’ll be fitting in once he gets here, but he can bring just about anything to the table.”
Penner should help give the Caps’ forward corps some balance. Even including Fehr – a right wing by trade, but a guy who has played all three forward positions this season – as a left wing, Washington has gotten only 33 goals from the left side this season. Thirty-five of the Caps’ goals have come from centers and 79 from the right side.
Penner’s 13 goals are one more than the Caps’ leading goal getter among left wings, Jason Chimera (12).
Washington’s second Winkler native is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and the cost to obtain him was more than reasonable. The Caps obtained a fourth-round pick from Anaheim when they sent center Mathieu Perreault to the Ducks last September, and Washington returned that pick to the Ducks for Penner’s services today.
Penner is expected to report to the Caps in time for Wednesday’s game against the Flyers in Philadelphia.
“There have been a couple of players who have come out of Winkler,” notes Fehr. “Ray Neufeld played for the Jets for a while. Brent Krahn was a really high draft pick with the Calgary Flames out of Winkler, who only ended up playing one game [in the NHL]. There have been a lot of players [in the NHL] who have been very close to Winkler, but I think Dustin and me are the only two playing right now. It’s kind of unique and a cool situation to be playing together in the NHL.”
Neufeld was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba and Krahn in Winnipeg. So the Caps can lay claim to having the only two players born in Winkler in NHL history.