Happy New Year as we turn the clock to 2021, and boy, does this year feel different with how the NHL season aligns with the calendar. The Zambonis have been fueled, the ice has been flooded, and the Pittsburgh Penguins have begun training camp on the 2020-21 NHL season.
With the unpredictability of a 56-game season, some new divisional alignments, and a cast of new players on the roster, the Penguins are gearing up for what they hope is another deep playoff run. The team is, of course, led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and as we examined a few weeks ago, the Pens success starts and ends with the superstar duo.
While it’s business as usual for the Penguins with training camp underway and less than two weeks until opening night, let’s have some fun with four bold predictions for the 2020-21 Penguins.
Sidney Crosby Wins the Art Ross Trophy
Crosby is certainly familiar with individual accolades, as he’s basically won every hockey trophy ever created. But it may surprise you to know he hasn’t won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leader in points since 2013-14.
With a shortened schedule and a much different offseason, Crosby should have an advantage early on this season, as his training regiment keeps him in unbelievable hockey shape throughout the entire year. He’s as streaky as anyone when it comes to lighting the lamp, so this prediction may not surprise everyone.
Last season, the 33-year-old finished with 47 points in 41 games, which wasn’t close to the leaders, of course. However, Crosby’s point-per-game average of 1.15 ranked him in the top-10 of players who averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time a game. While some may argue Crosby is slowing down, his 100-point total the season before suggests otherwise. Throw in the fact that his left-winger Jake Guentzel is developing into an elite sniper, and Crosby could easily take home some hardware after the season.
John Marino Will Finish the Season on the Top Defense Pair
Marino is fresh off signing his six-year contract extension that sees him earn an average of $4.4 million per season, and the sophomore is ready to take the next steps. General manager Jim Rutherford has shown his commitment to Marino, and this season you will see head coach Mike Sullivan do much of the same.
Last season, Marino averaged just over 20 minutes of ice-time a game, which is unheard of for a rookie. This season there’s certainly a good chance that jumps up to 23 or 24 minutes a game, and with his defensive capabilities in mind, Marino could leapfrog Kris Letang on the depth chart. Letang is certainly more offensive-minded and receives much more time on the power play, but Marino’s accountability in his own end will be the key here. Marino was tied for the lead in plus/minus last season, with a plus 17, while Letang finished even.
Bryan Rust Will Score 20 Goals
Most seasons, this wouldn’t be a very ‘bold’ prediction. However, this season is much different than the rest. The 56-game schedule that will see a ton of back-to-back games and baseball-style homestands will be an adjustment period for everyone. The expectation is Rust will play with Evgeni Malkin and receive his fair share of power play minutes, so sniping 20 is well within his reach.
Last season Rust enjoyed a career-high 27 goals, which led the Penguins. This included a team-leading eight goals on the power play, so if he’s capable of keeping this type of pace into this season, 20 goals is a manageable target.
Given the style that Sullivan is looking to play, where Rust plays in the lineup, and the amount of ice-time he receives, another 20-goal season could certainly be in his future.
Penguins Will Acquire Another Goaltender
The team heads into this season with a tandem of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. The duo is one of the most inexperienced goalie combinations in the league, and the Penguins will want to add a veteran to their mix.
Jarry was given the keys to the starter’s net when the Pens shipped out Matt Murray to the Ottawa Senators, and from all accounts, it looks like the 25-year-old All-Star is ready for the challenge. But with the condensed schedule and the fact Jarry has never carried the workload of an NHL starter, the team will need a security blanket in case something goes wrong.
The Craig Andersons and Ryan Millers of the world are off the market, but perhaps the team could sign someone like Jimmy Howard for their taxi-squad or trade for a veteran off a struggling team. Rentals like Antti Raanta out of Arizona or Devan Dubnyk from San Jose could be the perfect fit at the trade deadline.
The season begins against the rival Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 13th. No prediction needed, but Sullivan will have the team ready for puck drop. Buckle up Pens fans.