The Pittsburgh Penguins made quite a few changes to their forward group this offseason, as general manager Jim Rutherford added a top-six winger and two bottom-six forwards. He traded Patric Hornqvist to the Florida Panthers for defenceman Mike Matheson and Colton Sceviour. Rutherford also traded for Kasperi Kapanen and signed Mark Jankowski. The Penguins will hope their new additions will help make them a better team come next season.
First Line: Jason Zucker – Sidney Crosby – Kasperi Kapanen
Sidney Crosby will centre the first line as usual but will play with recent additions Kapanen and Jason Zucker, a player they acquired before the trade deadline last season. Zucker found immediate success while playing with Crosby, as he scored 6 goals in 11 games once he joined his new club. He also had four assists, three of which came on goals scored by the Penguins’ captain.
“You just make sure you’re making the hard plays. Sid plays a very simple game. You make the simple plays, and make sure you’re getting pucks out at the blue line and get them in at the blue line, and make the play when it’s there. But when it’s not there, you make sure you keep it simple and don’t turn the puck over.”Zucker on playing with Crosby.
On the other wing, Kapanen will add speed to the line. The Finnish forward had a tough time breaking out with the Toronto Maple Leafs since he was playing behind William Nylander and Mitch Marner over the past few seasons. Rutherford believes Kapanen can be a top-six winger for the club next season, and there is no better player to prove himself with than Crosby.
Second Line: Jake Guentzel – Evgeni Malkin – Bryan Rust
Evgeni Malkin will also be in his usual spot as the second-line centre and will line up next to Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. Guentzel and Malkin got their first chance to play together last season after a core injury sidelined Crosby for an extended period of time.
Before Guentzel’s shoulder injury in late December, the two combined for 22 points over six games. Rust also played with the two and complemented them well.
“He’s great on the forecheck. He forces turnovers. Those guys have an opportunity to take advantage of it. Rusty has got pretty good hockey sense to be able to get involved in the offense and supporting the puck and things of that sort. The three of them have played well.”Sullivan said of Rust.
After Guentzel’s injury, Rust became Malkin’s go-to winger. In this role, he had a career season, scoring 27 goals and 56 points in 55 games. Malkin re-established himself as a top centre in the league, leading an injured Penguins team with 25 goals and 74 points in 55 games. The trio could prove to be a great second line as the Penguins attempt to return to their Cup contender status.
Third Line: Jared McCann – Mark Jankowski – Evan Rodrigues
The third line will be centred by a recent addition in Jankowski, who has seen a steady decline in offensive production over the past three seasons. His scoring dipped from 17 goals in 2017-18 to 14 in 2018-19 and 5 goals in 2019-20. If he can regain his scoring touch in his first season as a Penguin, he will be a useful third-line centre. Jared McCann, who re-signed with the team this offseason, will be on his left-wing. Rutherford likes what McCann brings as he is an offensive player and can play on the wing and centre. Rutherford believes he has more upside to his game as he is only 24 years old.
Evan Rodrigues will be the right-winger on the third line. The Penguins acquired him from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline last season. In his short seven-game stint with the club last season, Rodrigues had a Corsi for a percentage of 63.11. He was then traded to the Maple Leafs for Kapanen but did not sign with them and returned to the Penguins. The 27-year-old may not provide Pittsburgh with goals but is versatile as he can play center or on the wing.
Fourth Line: Brandon Tanev – Teddy Blueger – Zach Aston-Reese
Brandon Tanev, Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese consistently lined up together throughout last season. They formed a modern-day checking line and were trusted by head coach Mike Sullivan (from ‘Penguins’ player grades: Brandon Tanev,’ The Athletic, 07/07/2020). The head coach used the trio after the Penguins surrendered a goal, following a power play, against the opposing team’s top line and when protecting a lead in the third period. Although the Penguins added a depth player in Sceviour, Sullivan’s trust in the fourth line likely means the trio will start next season together.
Penguins Have Options With Depth Players
The Penguins have a few options at forward this season with Sceviour, Sam Lafferty and Samuel Poulin. Sceviour is a nine-year veteran in the NHL and has provided depth scoring throughout his career. Lafferty played in his first pro season with the Penguins in 2019-20 and posted 13 points in 50 games.
Poulin was selected 21st overall in the 2019 NHL draft and is the only first-round pick the club has made over the past six drafts. Poulin is playing for the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix, where he has posted 201 points in 170 games over four seasons, and he will likely be at training camp next season. The 19-year old could prove to be a useful bottom-six player and could provide the team with depth scoring.
Nonetheless, the Penguins have options to move players up and down the lineup if the team needs scoring. Sullivan will have plenty of options at the start of training camp.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.