The Pittsburgh Penguins have been rebuilding their team during the last year and, for the most part, general manager Jim Rutherford has improved the team. When you change as many players as the Penguins have, there will be times that the team will look out of sync, uncoordinated and sloppy. However, as the seasons progresses the team should look better when players become more comfortable skating alongside each other. Without further adieu, here’s what the starting lines should be for the Penguins on opening night.
Top Line: Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Phil Kessel
I’ll clarify something, this is not what I think should happen, but what will happen on opening night. People have been very quick to count Kunitz out after his struggles last season, but he should be effective next season. Kunitz broke his foot early in the season and never made a full recovery, he played most of the season injured and still produced 40 points in 74 games. But before injuring his foot, he scored 9 goals and assisted on 11 more in 23 games played.
Post-injury was much worse as he scored 8 goals and assisted on 12 more throughout the final 51 games. More than anything Kunitz’s production, not his play, dropped off in the later half of last season. Except him to get first crack playing alongside Sidney Crosby. Is there any question who Phil Kessel will really play with? Evgeni Malkin has always played second fiddle to Crosby and that’s not about to change during 2015-16. Maybe if Kessel and Crosby can’t develop any chemistry they could change the lines, but at least to start the season it’s going to be Kunitz – Crosby – Kessel as the Penguins top line.
Second Line: David Perron – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
Often times you’ll see fans of the Penguins say that the top line should be Hornqvist – Crosby – Kessel, but both Kessel and Hornqvist are right wings. Remember how ineffective Jarome Iginla was when he was played on his off wing or even how bad Beau Bennett has been on the left side?
David Perron is the best left wing on the team, if he regains confidence in his shot, but given Kunitz’s reputation and chemistry with Crosby, Perron will be playing with Evgeni Malkin. Eventually look for Sergei Plotnikov to be given a chance in Perron’s position when he becomes comfortable playing at the NHL level, but to start the season this will be the Penguins second line.
Third Line: Sergei Plotnikov – Nick Bonino – Pascal Dupuis
The Penguins third line has been an enigma over the last few seasons. It was a unit centered by the vastly overrated Brandon Sutter who continually was defended by the excuse of having poor players on his wing. Well, Nick Bonino is going to have some great wings to work with in the upcoming season. Pascal Dupuis believes he can come back and play effectively, but his time in the top six is likely over after missing almost all of the last two seasons. Plotnikov will be playing on a hybrid checking/scoring line and this suits his game perfectly. For the first time in recent years, the Penguins have a third line that opposing teams will have to respect.
Fourth Line: Scott Wilson/Conor Sheary/Bryan Rust – Matt Cullen – Beau Bennett
The left wing on the Penguins fourth line is up for grabs at the beginning of the season. However, once Eric Fehr returns from injury expect some major line changes. Who should take the fourth line left wing, my money is on either Conor Sheary or Scott Wilson. Both should see some NHL action next season and they could push for more playing time if they impress the coaching staff. Matt Cullen was brought in to center the fourth line since Oskar Sundqvist has a thigh injury that still requires rehabilitation. And then, Beau Bennett will take the fourth line right wing and even though he is miscast as a fourth line player, he could be effective on a bottom line that should be capable of scoring quite a few goals.
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Michael Pityk is an analyst who has written for numerous sites since beginning his professional career. He’s acted as a credentialed member of the media for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Sports Journal, MSN, PensLabyrinth, Montreal Hockey Talk, ESPN Pittsburgh, The Hockey Writers, Todays SlapShot and The Bleacher Report. He formerly was the editor of Pens Labyrinth and an analyst for The Sports Journal. Michael presently acts as an NHL Analyst for The Hockey Writers