The Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to become one of the NHL’s elite again, as it’s been nothing but disappointment the last few seasons. General manager (GM) Ron Hextall enjoyed a fine offseason, which was busy at times, and awfully quiet at others. In the end, the Penguins’ roster appears set for the 2022-23 season, and it should be a very entertaining campaign.
While Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin are important pieces for the Pens, the team is stacked with players who contribute on a nightly basis, as head coach Mike Sullivan’s system allows for this type of balance. Besides the three Penguins legends who got their wish to retire together, here’s a look at three players who could be X-Factors in Pittsburgh this season:
It was great to see Rickard Rakell get his wish and re-sign with the Penguins as Hextall showed the team is committed. Rakell signed a six-year contract worth $5 million annually, and now it’s time to get to work. He showed some great chemistry with Evgeni Malkin at times, and if both players can stay healthy for an entire season, the possibilities are endless.
Rakell appeared in 19 regular-season games in a Penguins jersey and recorded four goals and 13 points. He went on to only play two games during the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the team is hopeful he can get himself back to 100% healthy.
Rakell is going to play major minutes on the second-line right wing. If Bryan Rust struggles, he’ll move up to play with Crosby and Jake Guentzel. and this type of flexibility and ability to move up and down the lineup is what makes him so important to the team.
Pittsburgh will rely on Rakell to lead them in secondary scoring, and he should be considered an X-Factor for this season.
When the news broke that Michael Matheson was heading to the Montreal Canadiens and Jeff Petry was on his way to the Penguins, it was a touch surprising. Hextall wanted to revamp his blue line and saw the veteran defenseman as a nice complementary player for Letang’s right side.
Last season was one to forget for the former Canadiens defenseman, as Petry’s name was dragged through trade rumors all season, and his production went down, possibly because of it. He’ll turn 35 years this year and is coming off a season of 27 points in 68 games.
Petry plays in all situations and will be a big piece of the team’s second power-play unit and penalty kill. In 68 games played in 2021-22, the offensive defenseman only recorded three power-play points. He’ll need to be more effective and basically a leader for the team’s second unit, and if he’s able to do so, look out because the Penguins’ special teams will have a much more balanced attack.
Petry is signed for three more seasons at over $6 million, so Hextall is banking on some serious production. He played much better in the late stages of last season, so if he can keep this momentum going, look for him to be a major contributor to the Penguins’ success this season.
Make no mistake, Tristan Jarry is the most important player on the Penguins heading into next season. It’s a contract year for the 27-year-old netminder, and to this point, it’s unknown whether the team plans to re-sign him.
At this point in his career, Jarry hasn’t been able to stay healthy when it matters or make the big save in the postseason. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster to say the least, and he’s hoping for a healthy, productive season in 2022-23.
Jarry should be fully healthy come opening night, and the spotlight will be shining directly on the Penguins’ crease. Management has had nothing but great things to say over the years; however, it’s time to put up or shut up, as they won’t accept anything less than elite goaltending.
With a system and a roster loaded with talent, Jarry doesn’t have to carry the team by any stretch and just needs to make the key saves when the game is on the line and not give anything away early to put his team behind the eight-ball. He’s shown he’s capable of this as a recent All-Star. If he can be a consistently elite netminder this season, look out because the Penguins are going to be very tough to beat.
While the season won’t fall strictly on Jarry, Rakell, or Petry’s shoulders, they are three Penguins who can have a massive impact on the team’s success. They all appear to be headed for bounce-back seasons and should be considered X-Factors for the 2022-23 season.
Shane’s been a part of The Hockey Writers team since 2020, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor, his versatile perspective on game results and everything off the ice produces diverse content. You can also find him on the Maple Leafs Lounge podcast with Peter Baracchini and Alex Hobson. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween