The Pittsburgh Penguins have a reputation for having some of the most talented players in the National Hockey League. They have won five Stanley Cups, so creating magic isn’t necessarily the hardest thing; but after losing Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta, they will need to lean on some of the younger talent to succeed in the 2019-20 season.
The Penguins are looking to upgrade their defense, recreate chemistry, and ultimately, win the Stanley Cup. There are a few problems to consider during the offseason and a few players who are in question, but we must compare and contrast who were lost and who can help the Penguins success this upcoming season.
The past trades haven’t completely stripped talent from the team, but there are a few holes to fill before starting the season. Specifically, the losses of Kessel (RW) and Maatta (D), two seasoned players that helped the team achieve back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Since they arrived in Pittsburgh, both players developed their skills and contributed positively to the team, and now the Penguins need to readjust their style after two consistent players have left the franchise.
Kessel helped the Penguins win two Stanley Cups and was recently traded for Alex Galchenyuk, a seasoned player from the Arizona Coyotes. Kessel was a candidate for the Conn Smythe trophy during the 2016-17 Stanley Cup-winning season, and he carries a “veteranship” that helped the Penguins reach success in the past. He ranked as one of the top scorers for Pittsburgh, tallying 82 points and became known as the “Iron Man” by being the most healthy player (aka playing the most games without being injured) for the Penguins.
In addition to this, he had firmly made a home on Evgeni Malkin’s line, which resulted in many crucial wins for the Penguins. Even though Kessel’s skill and talent levels are beyond expectations for most players, the Penguins need to find the chemistry and speed they once had during their back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning seasons. The Kessel-for-Galchenyuk trade happened for the benefit of the team, but leaving behind the healthiest player who also ranks as a top scorer, will prove to be an obstacle for the team.
Maatta was on the Penguins defense for six years and in those six years, he became one of the three most played defensemen for the Penguins. Behind Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, the time that Maatta once had on the ice, now has to be filled by another reliable defenseman.
Maatta was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for Dominik Kahun, a young centerman who tallied 82 games and 13 goals for the 2018-19 season. This trade left a hole in the Penguins defense, an area that needed focus for the upcoming season, and looking at returning players there are a few that could help increase the success of the position.
Possible Key Players
Looking at the talent that was lost this past trade, there are a few key players to keep in mind. The two players that could impact the Penguins’ success are Marcus Pettersson (D) and Brandon Tanev (C). Both players bring different skills to the table, and most importantly, both well-rounded playing styles.
Pettersson’s quality-of-play grew and developed the more he was on the ice in 2018-19. As a new(er) addition to the team, he developed himself, his speed, and his instincts and gave a boost to the Penguins defense. Numerous “Hail Mary” moments proved that he doesn’t stop protecting the puck even after it has reached the goal line, which is the hustle needed to be Stanley Cup champions.
With 84 games played and 23 assists for the 2018-19 season, Pettersson has the potential to become a crucial cog in the Penguins defense. Since Maatta’s exit from the ‘Burgh, Pettersson should step up and fill the hole in the defense and possibly amp the game of fellow defenseman Jack Johnson.
Brandon Tanev, the newcomer from the Winnipeg Jets, signed a six-year contract with the Penguins to round out the offensive talent. He developed his style of play with the Jets and proved himself to be a formidable opponent and aggressive player by being difficult to play against.
Tanev can and will focus on puck possession and the penalty kill, but also his offense will push the lower lines to play at the same level as the successful Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel line. Tanev’s versatility will help the Penguins achieve balance within each line and keep pressure on the opponent; he’s a player to watch this upcoming season.
After looking at the aftermath of the trade and what the Penguins have left, there’s a good chance for success this season. However, this assumption won’t be true until the first puck drop and the chemistry of the Penguins is tested.
Casey Montana is a Pittsburgh native and hockey fan. A recent graduate from Mercyhurst University with a bachelor’s degree in both Communications and Political Science, Casey focused her studies on Sports Business and Media. She started working with the Mercyhurst athletic department as the Strategic Communications Intern and then established a passion for hockey operations, media relations, and sports writing.