The Pittsburgh Penguins are set for another postseason playoff run, ranked one point back of first place in the MassMutual East Division. After the injuries and adversity, the 2020-21 season may be one of the franchise’s most impressive campaigns.
The team is close to being healthy at the perfect time, and head coach Mike Sullivan is expecting to have his 1-A lineup on the ice for a couple of games before the playoffs. While they always expect big things from Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin, it’s the supporting cast who will help push the Penguins over the top and give them the best chance at a deep run.
3 Penguins Who Need to Step Up These Playoffs
This will be Kapanen’s first playoffs in a Penguins jersey. The ex-Toronto Maple Leaf has 25 playoff games under his belt and seven points. The Pens are going to need his regular-season success to spill over into the playoffs.
This season, Kapanen has 24 points in 34 games and has enjoyed the most success playing alongside Malkin. The Russian star is expected back very soon, which should give the two a few more regular-season games to work on their chemistry.
Kapanen is made for the playoffs because he has elite speed, he’s willing to take a hit, and he’s never afraid to dive into the dirty areas. He also has also played in some very intense games for Finland in international competition, so the grind of the NHL playoffs won’t be anything new for #42.
It’s also going to be important for Kapanen to use his instincts on the penalty kill, as special teams become more important in the playoffs. He has the ability to score big goals, even while down a man. The Penguins will need secondary scoring to be successful, and there’s no player more capable to chip in than Kapanen.
McCann’s versatility has been on full display this season as he’s basically played everywhere and with everyone. With the slew of injuries that hit the roster, the coaching staff has leaned on McCann’s ability to play center and on the wing, and this may continue as the team heads into the postseason.
Because of the current injury situation, it’s not yet known where Sullivan will slot in McCann. He could play left-wing on the team’s second line alongside Malkin and Kapanen. This would give the team a more balanced top-nine, and they could move Jason Zucker down to the third line to play with Jeff Carter.
This season, McCann has tallied 26 points in 37 games. He does not possess a ton of playoff experience, so it will be important for him to lean on the veterans. One of the main reasons the Penguins acquired Carter was to bring in another champion who can provide some guidance for the McCanns on the team.
Look for the 24-year-old to build on his regular-season success and keep flying into the playoffs. His speed alongside Kapanen and Malkin could give other teams fits, and while he’s not overly physical, McCann rarely shies away from contact and may have to bang and crash a little bit more than he’s used to. Keep an eye on the former first-round pick; he’s poised for a big postseason.
I don’t know if you notice a trend here, but we need to give former Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford his due. He saw something in all three of these players and brought them to Pittsburgh, and no one has surprised more this season than Ceci.
The 27-year-old has been a bright spot for the Penguins and is enjoying a career season. His 17 points in 47 games put him on pace to shatter his career-high of 26 in a full 82-game season, and he has a remarkable plus-15 rating. The defender has been extremely responsible in his own end, and the Penguins will need more of the same if they want to enjoy success come playoff time.
Ceci is providing the Penguins with solid minutes in their top-four defense group, and the playoffs won’t scare Ceci away. He has 30 games of postseason experience, including under the Toronto Maple Leafs’s media spotlight and a deep playoff run with the Ottawa Senators in 2017. Ceci is best when he keeps his game simple, makes a solid first pass, uses his body when he needs to, and picks his spot to jump into the rush. He also doesn’t have a contract for next season, so there’s going to be some added incentive to perform.
The Penguins are getting healthy at the right time and should be gearing up for a long playoff run. The team has all the tools to win and will need to play many different styles to advance throughout the playoffs. Some nights it will take their high-powered offense, and some nights they will have to win dirty, relying on these three players to be at their best if they want to win the Stanley Cup.