3 Penguins Who Must Improve in 2019-20

The 2018-19 season was a season full of ups and downs for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Certain players performed or exceeded expectations. Others were not up to par with where they should be. After a quick, four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Islanders, it is safe to say that some players did not meet expectations. With only a few years left in the Stanley Cup window, the Penguins will expect certain players to perform at a much higher level than last season.

Forward Evgeni Malkin

The 2018-19 season was a disappointing one for Evgeni Malkin. Injuries, costly penalties and lack of production were just a few of the things that made the 2018-19 season one to forget for the Russian forward. He only had 21 goals in 68 games and had 89 penalty minutes, second most in his 13-year NHL career. A lot of those penalties happened at inopportune times that cost the Penguins. Whether it was a quick penalty when they were on the power play or a bad retaliation-type penalty, he needs to clean up his game and avoid these costly penalties.

Evgeni Malkin (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Malkin took time off this summer and appears to have gotten himself fit for the upcoming season, literally. Not only has he lost a few pounds, he looks in better shape than past seasons. He spent time in Russia, Miami, FL, and Pittsburgh working on all the elements that make him a top center in the league.

“I want to show to everyone I’m not done,” he said. “(I want to show) everything — power skating, stickhandling, scoring, play in the D zone, face-offs. I just want to come back at my top level, for sure.”

– Evgeni Malkin

Malkin is certainly capable of being the best version of himself. At 33 years old, there are still a few good years left in the tank. He will lead the second line and play the point on one of the best power play units in the league. Expect him to come back as a better version of himself and make the 2017-18 season look like an anomaly.

Forward Patric Hornqvist

Last season was one to forget for the Swede. With 39 points in 69 games and going almost two months without scoring a goal, last season was worrying for fans. Known for being a pesky player who is a nightmare for opposing goalies to deal with, Hornqvist was not that player after suffering his fourth concussion since the start of the 2016-17 season. He was either a step slow, his shots were a tad off or he wasn’t as willing to get in the dirty areas.

Buffalo Sabres Carter Hutton Pittsburgh Penguins Patric Hornqvist
Buffalo Sabres goalie Carter Hutton is screened by Pittsburgh Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

It will be interesting to see where he plays this season. Being on the top line with Sidney Crosby is unlikely, but certainly possible. His best bet is on the third line as well as his role on the first power play unit. How effective Hornqvist is on the power play drives up his production. With 31 of his 68 goals the last three seasons coming on the man advantage, the Penguins will rely on him to produce on the power play. After the summer break to get rejuvenated and make sure he is 100% healthy, a return to his 2016-17 form is not out of the question. He certainly needs to live up to his $5.3 million salary.

Defensemen Jack Johnson

When Jack Johnson was signed as a free agent before the 2018-19 season for $3.25 million per year for five years, fans were confused. Why was someone who was a healthy scratch in the 2018 Playoffs and statistically one of the worst defensemen in the league signed by the Penguins? Fans are still asking that question today. Amid trade rumors all offseason, Jack Johnson remains a Penguin and will need to have a better season. The worst defender last season, allowing the most goals per 60 minutes, Johnson surely can’t have a worse season than last.

Jack Johnson #73 of the Pittsburgh Penguins
CHICAGO, IL – DECEMBER 12: Jack Johnson #73 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and John Hayden #40 of the Chicago Blackhawks battle for the puck in the second period at the United Center on December 12, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)

It is unclear where the coaching staff plans to use Johnson. Now that Marcus Pettersson has been re-signed, it will be interesting to see if head coach Mike Sullivan puts him on the second or third defensive pairing. At age 32, he is not going to suddenly get faster or develop ways to move the puck better. But Johnson did lead the team in blocked shots, hits and was often on the penalty kill. If he can remain even more defensively focused by not being too aggressive and stay home on the penalty kill, Johnson can have a serviceable season. He was the only defender to play all 82 regular-season games and would often eat up ice time as needed, for better or for worse. Johnson needs to simplify his game and be better than he was for the Penguins to succeed.

Everyone Needs to Improve

It doesn’t matter if you are Sidney Crosby who had 100 points or Jack Johnson, the entire team has to improve. Early playoff exits are not something the city of Pittsburgh will accept. If this team doesn’t win the Stanley Cup, the season is considered, by many, a failure. Fans excused the second-round loss to the Washington Capitals in the 2018 Playoffs to fatigue from going back-to-back. But last season’s disappointing sweep by the Islanders was unacceptable to fans. Penguin fans will be desperate for another Cup with Crosby and Malkin nearing the end of their prime years.