When the Penguins acquired defenseman Matt Niskanen from Dallas in the James Neal-Alex Goligoski trade in 2011, it looked as if he might be something of a reclamation project.

A talented young player, he had shown he was capable of contributing at the NHL level before his confidence appeared to have been shredded by then-Stars coach Marc Crawford. Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who made certain Niskanen was included in the deal, didn't look at him quite that way, though.

He didn't see a defenseman who was damaged goods, who might be too much of a gamble to really count on. Instead, he looked at Niskanen as a strong candidate to fill the very role he has so far this season.

"One of the reasons Ray Shero had Matt Niskanen in the deal was his ability to play on the left side and play upward of 20 minutes," said Penguins assistant coach Todd Reirden, who oversees their defensemen.