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Penguins A to Z: Feisty Mark Friedman finally finds a fit

With the Penguins’ 2021-22 season coming to a quick ending in the first round of the playoffs, the Tribune-Review will offer Penguins A to Z, a player-by-player look at all 54 individuals signed to an NHL contract — including those whose deals do not begin until the 2022-23 season — with the organization, from mid-level prospect Niclas Almari to top-six winger Jason Zucker.

Mark Friedman

Position: Defenseman

Shoot: Right

Age: 26

Height: 5-foot-11

Weight: 185 pounds

2021-22 NHL statistics: 26 games, five points (one goal, four assists)

2021-22 AHL statistics: Two games, zero points (zero goals, zero assists)

Contract: In the final year of a two-year contract with a salary cap hit of $725,000. Entering the first year of a two-year contract with a salary cap hit of $775,000. Pending restricted free agent in the 2024 offseason.

Acquired: Claimed off waivers, Feb. 24, 2021

Last season: Mark Friedman tends to be emotional.

Granted, most of those emotions tend to involve some kind of physical confrontation on the ice. But he doesn’t hold much back.

But things were a bit different March 21 when he discussed the contract extension he signed one day earlier.

Friedman got choked up a tad when talking about the importance of having some stability such a contract — a one-way deal — can offer. After all, he hasn’t enjoyed much of that throughout his still-young career to this point.

For the first time in his career, he opened a season on an NHL roster and in the lineup. In fact, he was in the Penguins’ lineup for 11 of their first 13 games, largely due to several of the team’s other defensemen dealing with injury or illness.

But that frequent deployment came to a halt Nov. 14 when the Penguins were stricken with a rare outbreak of good health on the blue line, and Friedman was a healthy scratch for 39 of the next 40 games, the lone exception being a 3-2 road loss to the Dallas Stars on Jan. 8 when he dressed as a seventh defenseman after a handful of covid-19 cases prompted the Penguins to dress an irregular lineup.

(Note: Friedman was sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League on Feb. 20 for a brief two-game conditioning assignment.)

When an undisclosed injury sidelined defenseman Mike Mathison, Friedman returned to the lineup for a 1-0 home win against the New York Rangers on Feb. 26.

One day later in a road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Friedman came through with one of the team’s best defensive plays of the season when he swept a loose puck out of the Penguins’ crease. That play kept his team down by only a single goal and allowed it to stage a comeback for a 3-2 victory.

After that, Friedman wasn’t just an injury replacement. He remained in the lineup on a semi-regular basis, often at the expense of defenseman Marcus Pettersson as a healthy scratch.

Friedman’s insertion into the lineup brought a level of feistiness and abrasiveness that few others on the roster could offer.

Down the stretch of the regular season, Friedman was a healthy scratch for the Penguins’ final six games then for Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers.

After defenseman Brian Dumoulin injured his right knee in Game 1, Friedman made his postseason debut, appearing in the final six games of the series and contributed a goal in Game 4, a 7-2 home win.

The future: Even if he was a healthy scratch for the better part of three months, Friedman’s 2021-22 was a huge step forward for him considering he set career-highs. And being able to sign a contract extension with some stability was a leap in the right direction by comparison.

Capable of playing either side of the ice, Friedman’s malleability makes him valuable in the event one of the incumbent defensemen is unavailable or just playing poorly.

The future of top defenseman Kris Letang, a pending unrestricted free agent this upcoming offseason, will dictate how the rest of the Penguins’ blue line sorts out. But Friedman has found a fit as an ideal seventh defenseman.

Follow the Penguins all season long.

Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at srorabaugh@triblive.com or via Twitter .