Cullen's versatility isn't an accident - 02-03-16

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Matt Cullen has done just about everything with the Penguins this season. First line left winger. Fourth line center. Penalty kill. Power play. With the exception of goal, he's been pressed into duty with just about every conceivable position.

So when Eric Fehr left last night's 6-5 home win against the Senators in the second period due to a "lower-body" injury, it wasn't anything new for Cullen when he was pressed into Fehr's spot on the third line.

"He does it all," said defenseman Ben Lovejoy. "He's been awesome at filling almost every role for our team. He's one of our top penalty killers. He's getting some time on the power play now. He's played all three forward positions and leads our team in faceoff percentage. He's done just an awesome job and that doesn't touch what he's done off the ice. He's an incredible professional the way he treats his body, how seriously he takes the game and how he's fit into a lineup of a very young team and been one of the guys but also been a leader."

Being versatile isn't an accident for Cullen. It's been a signature trade of his for much of his career. In various stops throughout his career, he has even been a regular as a point man on the power play.

Earlier today, he talked about his versatility, how he hones so many different skills for so many different positions and how he's been able to be multi-faceted at age 39.


Monday, you mentioned how you work on different skillsets in the offseason in order to stay sharp in terms of playing different positions. When some people go to the gym, they have a "legs day" or a "back day." Do you have a "left wing day" or "penalty killing" day in the summer?

"No, I guess I'm mostly talking about on the ice stuff. As I've gotten older in my career, I started getting on the ice [earlier]. I used to stay off the ice until probably mid-July which is pretty common. I got on the ice now in June. I've always feared getting too far away from game shape as I get older so I kind of stay in it. I'm on the ice a lot. So I do a lot of stuff. Over the years, I've probably played 10 years on the point on the power play. So I would spend a lot of time working on different things from the blue line, moving laterally along the blue line. Different things like that. Later in my career, I started playing a lot more wing along with center so I would work on picking up pucks off the wall and attacking and just handling pucks off the wall. Little things like that where when I was starting my career, I would never think about working on. As I've gone along and played different roles, I know through the course of the season you can be called upon to do different things. I take that opportunity and that time to work on those things that might come up."

Expand on that part about working on skills as a defenseman. What kind of things do you work on there?

"I do it parts of a lot of practices. Throughout the summer, I'll have days where I don't necessarily skate myself. I'll just go out and spend an hour and just work on my skills. So it's not necessarily a fatiguing practice but I'll take a bunch of pucks and catch a puck on my backhand on the blue line. … I'll be on the blue line and catch a puck on my backhand and pull it across the blue line to the middle and shoot it. Little small things like that where it's something as a forward, you don't do a whole lot. Just moving forward to backward and opening up with the puck, pivoting, backwards to forwards. Small things that if you're called up to play in that spot, at least you have some comfort with it."

At what point in your career did you start to diversify your training?

"I guess probably when I first went to Carolina [in 2005, head coach] Peter Laviolette, the first day of training camp, asked me if I could play the point on the power play. I was like, 'Yeah, for sure,' never having done it. Then I did it and I played there from day one to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Since then, I've played quite a bit on the point on the power play. He actually talked a lot to me about it because at the trade deadline that year, we picked up [right winger Mark Recchi] and [center] Dougie Weight. So I was moved to the wing which I hadn't played a lot of and he talked about how valuable it is to be a versatile player. It was something I took to heart so that was the time I really started spending a lot of time in the summer. I guess that was 10 years ago."

That probably is a big reason you're still playing at 39.

"I think so. Being able to adapt to different situations and being comfortable with it."

A lot of players who play until their late 30s or early 40s tend to be one dimensional. Someone like a Jaromir Jagr or a Teemu Selanne, as great as they are, they're "only" a top-six winger. They're not going to kill penalties or be a point man on the power play. How have you been able to do that despite your age?

"I don't know. I guess if you're not good enough at one thing, you should be good at a lot of things. I was never a superstar or a top guy. I always try to be good at a lot of things. I was working on everything I could. I guess I've been lucky that way."

You've also been lucky in that you haven't seemed to deal with any sort of major injuries in your career.

"No doubt. No question. I've had some [injuries] here or there but absolutely, that plays a big part in it. And along with that, the fortune of coming across the right players at the right time in my career. I played with [Mighty Ducks left winger] Paul Kariya early on in my career and I don't think I've ever seen anybody spend more time studying the game of hockey and working on his body than Paul. I learned a lot from him. And seeing a guy like [former Hurricanes center] Roddy Brind'Amour, the way he put himself into it. That group in Carolina, when we won [the Stanley Cup], had a lot of guys, for me that was a perfect time because I learned so much. It was kind of a crossroads in my career. I guess I was 29 and I learned a lot from guys like Dougie Weight and [defnesemen] Bret Hedican and [left winger] Ray Whitney and Rod Brind'Amour. There's a long list of guys that you're like 'Oh yeah, I know him.' It was a really cool time for me because I learned so much. We had a successful season. It helped me sort of make a big change in the way I do things and I think that has a lot to do with being here."

(Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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Empty Netter Assists - Recapping Penguins-Senators - 02-03-16

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Note: Due to the NHL re-designing its Web site, we will have limited video highlights on EN Assists for the time being.


-The Post-Gazette's recap from last night's game. “I think it’s fun.” - Captain/center Sidney Crosby (above, with Senators goaltender Craig Anderson) on playing wide open games.

-The Associated Press' recap. "I think he's doing the same things; he's going to the right areas and the puck is going in." - Left winger Chris Kunitz on Crosby.

-The Ottawa Citizen's recap. "We couldn’t play with the same speed Pittsburgh played with.” - Senators coach Dave Cameron.


-Mike Lange's goal calls.

-The hats came down for Crosby:

-Things have been trending upwards for Crosby under head coach Mike Sullivan:

-Fleury had issues with this puck:

-Happy times for the Senators. Not so much for Penguins defenseman Kris Letang:

-Anderson stretched in the dark:

-Sullivan speaks:

-Fleury speaks:

-Crosby speaks:

-Last week's Penguins-Capitals game which was snowed out has been rescheduled for March 1, 7:38 p.m.

-Center Matt Cullen wears many hats.

-Former Penguins center Mike Comrie had his divorce from entertainer Hillary Duff finalized.

-Happy 48th birthday to former Penguins defenseman Frantisek Kucera. Kucera came to the Penguins at the 2001 trade deadline in a deal that sent a sixth-round pick to the Blue Jackets. He appeared in seven games for the Penguins that season and recorded two assists. In the 2001 offseason, he was traded to the Capitals along with some other guy in exchange for centers Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and defenseman Ross Lupaschuk.

-After the Jump: A "new" look for the Maple Leafs.

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Perry on Politics: The biggest loser

Republican caucus-goers cast their ballots at Pella High School in Pella, Iowa, Feb. 1, 2016. (Eric Thayer/The New York Times)

Donald J. Trump has been saying all along his opponents are idiots. They're all losers, he says. And now, of course, he's lost the Republican caucuses in Iowa, the first real delegate-choosing election of the 2016 campaign....

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National signing day 2016 live blog

Written by Mike White on .

Join Mike White for a running blog chronicling the local signing day happenings:

Live Blog Mike White's signing day blog: 2.3.16

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2016 Signing Day live blog

Written by Sam Werner on .

Welcome to this year's national signing day live blog. Keep it posted here for all the latest updates on Pitt's 2016 class...

11:52 a.m. - George Hill's letter of intent is in, and that's a wrap for the early part of Pitt's signing day. All 20 players expected to sign with the Panthers did so, plus they added defensive tackle Keyshon Camp. Now, we'll wait until 3 p.m. for Pat Narduzzi's press conference and DE Rashad Weaver's announcement.

10:54 a.m.- Arguably the biggest commit on Pitt's board, four-star Central Catholic DB Damar Hamlin, is now officially signed with Pitt. Narduzzi, linebackers coach Rob Harley and defensive coordinator Josh Conklin all spoke to Hamlin on the phone after his letter came through. "We're excited, fired up. I can't wait to start coaching you up," Conklin said. Hamlin could start at either safety or cornerback, and will challenge for playing time almost as soon as he gets on campus. Now, Pitt is just waiting on Ohio DB George Hill (committed) and DE Rashad Weaver (announcing at 3 p.m.).

10:41 a.m.- After a last-minute flirtation with Virginia Tech, linebacker Chase Pine has officially signed with Pitt. Pine is a guy this staff is very high on, and they let out a big whoop from the coaches when they officially held on to him. The coaches are still waiting on letters from Damar Hamlin and George Hill, but I don't think there's any worry about losing either one of them, only a matter of paperwork. The last question mark left on the board is defensive end Rashad Weaver, who will announce around 3 p.m.

9:39 a.m.- Getting close to wrapping things up here. Central Catholic defensive lineman Rashad Wheeler has his letter of intent in, and now Pitt is just waiting on Wheeler's teammate DB Damar Hamlin, Ohio DB George Hill and Virginia LB Chase Pine.

9:35 a.m.- We've got our first addition to the class today as defensive tackle Keyshon Camp announced that he would sign with Pitt, and followed that up with a phone call to Narduzzi. Camp is only a three-star on, but 247 Sports' composite rankings has him at four stars, and he figures to be a big addition for the Panthers along the defensive line.
Just before he announced, three-star offensive lineman Zack Williams and four-star defensive tackle Amir Watts made their commitments official, too.

9:17 a.m.- OK, now we're at 15 of the 20 guys expected to sign today. Linebacker Kaezon Pugh from Aliquippa and four-star Ohio receiver Ruben Flowers. Flowers is a big get for the Panthers as they try and replace Tyler Boyd in next year's offense. Pitt is still waiting on the other two Central Catholic kids (DB Damar Hamlin and DL Rashad Wheeler), DB George Hill, DT Amir Watts, LB Chase Pine and OL Zack Williams.

9:05 a.m.- Two more official additions to the class, both in the secondary: Central Catholic commit Bricen Garner is in, as is Florida prospect Henry Miller. Garner is the first of three Central kids expected to sign with Pitt today — he should be joined by Damar Hamlin and Rasahd Wheeler soon — and Miller is a big get because Pitt held off a late run from Miami (with new coach Mark Richt) for his services.

8:41 a.m.- The latest letter comes from LB Elias Reynolds, which makes it official for 10 of the 20 prospects the Panthers have committed to sign today. If you're keeping track at home, Pitt is still waiting on WR Ruben Flowers, DB George Hill, DB Henry Miller, LB Chase Pine, LB Kaezon Pugh, DT Amir Watts, OL Zack Williams (who should be soon) and the three Central kids: DB Damar Hamlin, DB Bricen Garner and DL Rashad Wheeler.

8:30 a.m.- We hit a bit of a lull after that early rush, but Pitt just got a new group of letters coming through. First, Clairton wide receiver Aaron Mathews sent in his fax, confirming his flip from Penn State (which he announced on Monday night). Just a few minutes ago, defensive back Therran Coleman from Brashear officially joined the class, as well. We overheard Narduzzi on the phone with Coleman, saying "We got a City League champion right here."
Also worth noting that right around Mathews' fax, we heard a modestly-sized cheer from the coaches room. We'll see if that was from one of the guys that already announced or if Pitt is adding to its class on signing day.

7:40 a.m.- You can add defensive linemen Bryce Hargrove and Zack Gilbert, as well as New Jersey athlete Phil Campbell to the official list. It's worth noting that Campbell is listed as a DB/RB. He'll probably start his career on the defensive side of the ball, but this probably shows that the staff things he has some versatility to go either way.
Gilbert, if you'll recall, wanted to enroll early, but some academic snags prevented that. He'll join the rest of the class on campus this summer.

7:31 a.m.- Wide receiver Maurice Ffrench's letter of intent is now in. We got to overhear a bit of Pat Narduzzi's phone conversation with Ffrench. Narduzzi called Ffrench "Mr. Electric," and confirmed that he plans on playing offense to start his career at Pitt.
"Are you playing offense or defense?" Narduzzi said to Ffrench. "Offense? That's good. That's what I wanted to hear right there."
Narduzzi then passed the phone off to wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman, who joked that he wouldn't let Ffrench even talk to cornerbacks coach Renaldo Hill, as Ffrench could end up playing defense (of course he eventually passed the phone along to Hill).

7:17 a.m.- We can added two more names to the official list: quarterback Thomas MacVittie and offensive lineman Justin Morgan have sent their letters of intent in to Pitt. The Panthers held off a late run by LSU for MacVittie, who a lot of people I've talked to are very high on as a difference-maker under center for the Panthers.
It's also worth noting that, while we all love the good ol' fax machine, some of Pitt's letters are coming in by email today. Ford, for instance, was the first one in and did so by email.

7:08 a.m.- Three-star Upper St. Clair offensive lineman Brandon Ford is the first official signee this morning. We should have a pretty good run right here early on.

7:05 a.m.- Greetings from Pitt's football facility, where we're ready for the faxes to roll in. The Pitt coaching staff is in their team conference room right now awaiting this year's class. We'll keep it updated here as guys officially send in their letters of intent.


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