Matt Niskanen has come a long way.

Two years ago, Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett commented that Niskanen “is a great No. 5 guy,” an insinuation that the defenseman wasn't worthy of top-four consideration. Tippett coached Niskanen in Niskanen's first season in the NHL with the Dallas Stars.

Dan Bylsma coaches Niskanen now and offers a different take.

“Tipp coached Matt a long time ago,” Bylsma said.

When the Penguins acquired Niskanen in a trade from the Stars almost three years ago, they received a former first-round pick who had lost his way.

A new Niskanen has emerged. Solid throughout his Penguins career, Niskanen has been a standout this season when the Penguins have needed him most.

“It was all about rebuilding his confidence,” said assistant coach Todd Reirden, who oversees the team's defensemen. “He was an admitted throw-in to a deal that involved James Neal and Alex Goligoski, and he knew it. When you do know something like that, it has to take something out of your confidence, and that was the case for him.”

Niskanen had broken into the league with Dallas and, as a rookie, joined star Sergei Zubov.

However, Niskanen struggled in the following couple of seasons and wasn't in the Stars' future.

After a solid-but-unspectacular first season with the Penguins, Niskanen sat down with Reirden. The defenseman's career was on the line.

“I have a plan with all of our defensemen to make them the best players they can be,” Reirden said. “With Kris Letang, it was about trying to get him to become one of the NHL's best defensemen. With Matt Niskanen, it was trying to keep him in the league. That's where our plan started.”

Niskanen need not worry about remaining in the NHL. Rather, the Penguins might want to start worrying about being able to afford him in the summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.