The Pittsburgh Penguins are gunning for nothing less than a third consecutive Stanley Cup. They hope to become the first NHL club to win three in a row since the New York Islanders in the 1980s and they still have the pieces to do just that.
But there have been some losses in the off-season, mostly at depth positions. The Penguins saw Chris Kunitz sign with Tampa and watched Matt Cullen head to Minnesota. Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit also left via free agency.
But perhaps the biggest loss of all came when Nick Bonino signed a deal with the Nashville Predators, the club Pittsburgh defeated to win the Cup last season. General manager Jim Rutherford has said that it’s still part of the plan to find a third line centre to replace Bonino.
Sidney Crosby missed seven games last season, but he still led the NHL in goals with 44 and managed 89 points. The 30-year-old scored 14 goals on the power play and registered 255 shots on goal. He also put up 27 points in 24 playoff games, including eight goals and 19 assists. Crosby is the quintessential centre, an elite talent and a generational player.
Evgeni Malkin put up 72 points in 62 games last season and produced 1.18 points per game, putting him second only to Crosby in the category. The Magnitogorsk-born centre is as solid a pick as any in the NHL. He averaged 18:37 of ice time in the regular season and posted 28 points in 25 playoff games. The Penguins can stick him at any forward position and he’ll excel.
Phil Kessel filled the Cup with hot dogs and filled the net with pucks last season. He scored 23 goals and added 47 assists for 70 points in 82 games. He averaged nearly 18 minutes of ice time a game and thrived alongside Malkin. The 29-year-old evidently still has something to prove at the NHL level and that makes him dangerous.
Jake Guentzel is the club’s top left winger in the depth chart. He scored 13 goals in the playoffs and had 33 points in 40 games as a rookie. The 22-year-old hasn’t seen a lot of time on the top power play unit and that might hurt his value a touch, but he does score at a high rate and should be worth a look for fantasy owners.
Kris Letang was limited to 41 games last season and still put up 34 points, which illustrates just how valuable the blueliner is to this hockey club. The Montreal native averaged 25:31 of ice time before the herniated disc took over, but word around the campfire is that he’s rehabbing ahead of schedule. The 30-year-old has mountains of playoff experience and would love another shot at the post-season soon.
Justin Schultz played well in Letang’s absence and produced 51 points in 78 games last season. He scored double-digit goals for just the second time in his career. Three goals came on the power play. The 27-year-old from Kelowna averaged 20:26 of ice time a game in the regular season and produced 13 points in 21 playoff games.
23-year-old Olli Maatta put together a neat eight points in the post-season and produced seven points in 55 regular season games. He averaged 18:03 of ice time in the regular season and is a smart player with offensive instincts. He can play big minutes and may emerge as a quality second-tier threat on the blueline.
Matt Murray has emerged as one of the best goalies in the NHL. With Marc-Andre Fleury as the face of the franchise in Vegas, the Thunder Bay native has every chance to carve out his own legacy with the Penguins. Murray is in line to do just that, posting 32 wins in 47 starts last season. He covers a lot of the net, but injuries may be a concern going forward.
Pittsburgh signed goalie Antti Niemi as an insurance policy. He’ll have some big shoes to fill with Fleury gone, but the 34-year-old has the experience to do the job. He went 12-12-4 last season with Dallas, with a 3.30 goals against average and a .892 save percentage. Those aren’t good numbers, but Niemi is imperturbable and should bounce back.