Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Pittsburgh Penguins 2019-20 season preview

From Getty Images


       It is amazing how quick a team that won two consecutive Stanley Cups could go to retooling. The Penguins, now two seasons removed from their 2017 Stanley Cup, traded away Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta, big parts of the cup teams, bringing in Alex Galchenyuk and Dominik Kahun, as the team looks to build a younger core around the aging Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

       Additions: Alex Galchenyuk, Brandon Tanev, Dominik Kahun, Pierre-Olivier Joseph

       Subtractions: Phil Kessel, Olli Maatta, Matt Cullen, Garrett Wilson, Chris Wideman

       Forwards
It is pretty much official that Connor McDavid has passed Sidney Crosby as the best player in hockey. But in 2018-19, Crosby, even at age 31, proved that he is still the second best. He scored 35 goals, and his 100 points were his most since he won the Hart Trophy in 2013-14. He finished 2nd in Hart voting, and 4th in Selke voting. But his partner in crime throughout the years, Evgeni Malkin, took a step back. In 68 games, he scored 21 goals, which was least in a single season with at least 50 games played. While he still had 72 points, his -25 rating was a career worst. Crosby's most consistent linemate last year, Jake Guentzel, broke out in a big way. He scored 40 goals with 76 points, both demolishing career highs. Another player to regress in 2018-19 was Patric Hornqvist not including 2008-09 and 2012-13, when he didn't even play in 30 games, Hornqvist failed to score 20 goals for the first time, with 18. His 37 points were also a career low. Coming back from Arizona for Kessel was Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk scored 30 goals in 2015-16, but hasn't scored 20 since. He had 19 goals and 41 points in his lone season in the desert. Nick Bjugstad enters his first full season in Pittsburgh. He scored nine goals in 32 games there post trade from Florida. His 14 overall goals in 64 games was lower than his career average. Another player that was a part of the trade with Florida with Bjugstad was Jared McCann. He scored a career high 19 goals, and his 11 in 32 games with Pittsburgh alone would have been a career high for him. Bryan Rust spent some time on Crosby's line, which resulted in a career high 18 goals, with 35 points. Acquired for Maatta was Czech forward Dominik Kahun. In his rookie season in Chicago, Kahun scored 13 goals with 37 points, finishing 11th in Calder voting. The Penguins signed free agent forward Brandon Tanev to a questionable six year deal worth $20 million. Tanev is already 27 years old, and is a third liner at best. He scored a career high 14 goals and 29 points in Winnipeg last season. Dominik Simon also spent time on Crosby's line. He had career highs in games played (71), goals (8), assists (20) and points (28). With 21 year veteran Matt Cullen retiring, it will be Zach Aston-Reese's job to be the fourth line forward. In 43 games last year, Aston-Reese scored eight goals with 17 points. Teddy Blueger scored 21 goals with 39 points in 45 AHL games, earning himself his first taste of the NHL. He had 10 points in 28 games, and due to an injury to McCann, he got to play in a single playoff game.

              Defensemen
Kris Letang ran the defense again, but he was also hurt again. In 65 games, he tied his career high of 16 goals, and he had 56 points too, finishing 6th in Norris voting. Brian Dumoulin has developed as Pittsburgh's 2nd best defenseman. He scored a career high 23 points, and he was an astounding +31 player. Justin Schultz got Norris votes in 2016-17, but he has fallen off in every season since. He played in just 29 games last year, with 15 points. He could be traded, as he is a pending UFA. Currently an RFA, Marcus Pettersson had a great first season. While playing in a league leading 84 games between Anaheim and Pittsburgh, Pettersson had 25 points, 19 of those coming in 57 games with Pittsburgh. He finished 10th in Calder voting. Physical defenseman Erik Gudbranson was a -27 in 57 games in Vancouver until he was traded to Pittsburgh. He was a +7 with two assists in 19 games post trade. He had 52 hits in 19 games with Pittsburgh. Before the season, the Penguins signed Jack Johnson to a five year deal that looked awful before the ink was dry. He was a -4 with 13 points in 82 games, with a career high 233 hits. Chad Ruhwedel has been a depth defenseman for the past three years in Pittsburgh. He suited up for 18 games, and he was a -9. In his first year in North America, Juuso Riikola played in 37 NHL games, with five points.

               Goalies
After winning two Stanley Cups as a rookie, Matt Murray has regressed. He improved after a bad 2017-18 season, but his .919 SV% and 2.69 GAA weren't better than his rookie season numbers. However, his 14.67 GSAA was a career best. In four playoff games, Murray struggled, with a 3.02 GAA. In his first full season as the backup, Casey DeSmith had a .916 SV% and a 2.75 GAA. In 29 games over the past three seasons, Tristan Jarry has a .906 SV% and 2.84 GAA.

               Deep Depths
The Penguins signed Finnish forward Oula Palve, who had 51 points in 53 games in the Finnish League last year. Joseph Blandisi played in six games for Pittsburgh after being acquired for Derek Grant. Depth defenseman Zach Trotman played in 13 games last year.

               Up and Coming
The Penguins' farm system is one of the league's weakest as the team has traded assets for proven talent, and their first round pick in this past draft was their first in a while. They used that pick on Sam Poulin, who scored 76 points in 67 QMJHL games. Part of the Kessel trade was defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph. A 2017 first rounder, Joseph had 47 points in 62 QMJHL games.

                2019 draft class
Round 1, 21st overall: Sam Poulin
Round 3, 74th overall: Nathan Legare
Round 5, 145th overall: Judd Caulfield
Round 7, 203rd overall: Valtteri Puustinen
Round 7, 211th overall: Santeri Airola

                Management
Mike Sullivan is one of the longest tenured Head Coaches in the NHL, and he has only been with Pittsburgh since 2015-16. Every year under Sullivan the team has had a winning percentage over .600. GM Jim Rutherford was tested after the first round playoff exit, and we will see if the Kessel trade works out.

                Projected Lineup
Jared McCann - Sidney Crosby - Jake Guentzel
Alex Galchenyuk - Evgeni Malkin - Patric Hornqvist
Dominik Simon - Nick Bjugstad - Dominik Kahun
Brandon Tanev - Zach Aston-Reese - Bryan Rust
Extras: Teddy Blueger, Oula Palve

               Brian Dumoulin - Kris Letang
               Marcus Pettersson - Justin Schultz
               Jack Johnson - Erik Gudbranson
Extras: Chad Ruhwedel, Juuso Riikola, Zach Trotman

                          Matt Murray
                          Casey DeSmith
Extras: Christian Jarry

                Prediction
The Penguins are a really good team, and even after trading Kessel and Maatta, and being swept in the first round, they are a good bet to be in the playoffs. I predict the Penguins will finish 2nd in the Metropolitan Division.

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