It may have taken 17 years, but Steve Sullivan is in the best situation of his 890 game career. The speedy winger has racked up 266 career goals and is rapidly approaching 700 points, but he’s never been on teams that were expected to do damage in the playoffs. In fact, since he was drafted in the 9th round of the 1994 Entry Draft, the 37-year-old Sullivan has only played in a grand total of 44 career playoff games. For a little perspective, the Boston Bruins have played in 38 playoff games in the last 15 months. He and his Nashville Predators made it to the second round last season—it was only the second time he’d made it past the opening round ever. He’s had a very good career, but he’s never really been on elite teams expected to compete for the Stanley Cup.
All of that changes in September. When he starts the season next to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins, he’ll be on a team with the highest expectations he’s ever faced. As he spoke to Daniel Perry of The Daily Press, it’s apparent that he understands his opportunity (s/t to Kukla’s Korner):
“”I’m very excited about playing in Pittsburgh. It’s a first-class organization. Best team on paper I’ve ever played with, from top to bottom. I’m really looking forward to it.
“Whenever you get a chance to play with the best player in the world, you have to be excited. I have high expectations and my hopes are big. This could be my best year yet.”
“I’d love to be a reliable top-nine forward for them that can play in all situations. They already have a great core of players, so I’m hoping I can be extra piece to their puzzle and help them win the Cup again.”
As usual, the Penguins will enter the season with a plethora of talent down the middle. Assuming both Crosby and Malkin are ready for the season, the pair along with Jordan Staal will be one of the most formidable center trios in the NHL. Sullivan will join the likes of James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and Pascal Dupuis as guys who are expected to play alongside the talented centers and keep the pressure on the opposition. If Sullivan can stay healthy and Neal can pick up where he left off with the Dallas Stars last year, the Penguins could have two of the best wingers they’ve had in recent memory. They’ll both look to help the Penguins improve upon their 25th ranked power play—an unbelievable stat considering the talent on the ice.
The most important thing for Sullivan will be to stay healthy for 82-games next season. The 2009 Masterton Trophy winner is still an extremely productive offensive player when he’s on the ice, but that’s been easier said than done. He missed 38 games last season, 41 games in 2008-09 and the entire 2007-08 season. But before missing the 2007-08 season, he was a point-per-game player for the Predators. He may not be the same point-per-game player that he was a few years ago, but he’s still capable of keeping up with Crosby and having a career year if he can stay on the ice.
Hopefully we’ll be able to see what he’s able to do on a team with high expectations for an entire season next year.