The Pittsburgh Penguins 2013 roster will provide the opportunity for many young players to step up. Roster moves made by Penguins’ General Manager Ray Shero have paved the way for Simon Despres and Eric Tangradi to show they belong at the NHL level.
Once announced that Beau Bennett and Jason Megna were sent back to the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins after participating in the Pens’ “Black and Gold” scrimmage at the Consol Energy Center on Wednesday, the Pens’ roster is pretty much set for the 2013 NHL season.
Line 1: LW Chris Kunitz, C Sidney Crosby, RW Pascal Dupuis
This line will go where Crosby takes it. The Pens’ captain is in his best physical condition in nearly two years. Many are preparing for the dominate Crosby we saw when he recorded 32 goals in his first 41 games two seasons ago. While Crosby starting the season ablaze is not an unlikely possibility, he has participated in less than 30 NHL games in the last two years. There is nothing any player can do to get in game shape except play in actual regular season games.
Crosby may do the same thing he did in his return last season. He dominated in his first game or two based off of adrenaline, then he hit a wall. Crosby will certainly play better than he did last season, but give him a few weeks to start dominating. Once he is back into game shape the sky is the limit.
With Crosby between them, hopefully Kunitz and Dupuis will build off their sensational seasons from a year ago. If this line does not produce at a steady pace, look for Head Coach Dan Bylsma to swap Kunitz with Tangradi.
Line 2: LW Eric Tangradi, C Evgeni Malkin, RW James Neal
Malkin and Neal will get their points. The question is going to be how easily Tangradi makes it for them to score points. Tangradi will be the key factor on this line. If he plays like he has in the past at the NHL level, the Pens’ will be trying to trade him or ship him off to WBS.
The Pens’ have given him every chance to succeed. The time is now. He will be playing with two of the most offensively talented forwards in the world. If Tangradi cannot help Neal and Malkin get their points then he may never succeed at the NHL level.
Other the other hand, one of Malkin’s best years was when he played on a line with Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora. If Tangradi causes havoc like Malone used too in front of opposing goaltenders, Tangradi will open up space for his line-mates and this line will succeed. Tangradi needs to play with an edge and do everything Malone did when he was on Malkin’s line.
Line 3: LW Matt Cooke, C Brandon Sutter, RW Tyler Kennedy
This was the best group of forwards at the Penguins’ “Black and Gold” game Wednesday night. Each one of these players had their own shining moment during the game. Sutter made a great first impression with fans when he split Despres and Kris Letang on the first shift of the evening and slipped a puck over to Cooke for an open net goal. Sutter looked phenomenal while scoring a goal, two assists and burying a shootout goal. He and Cooke looked to have great chemistry as they even registered a short-handed goal.
If this line for the Pens’ can force opponents’ top-scoring lines to play defense against them more often than not, then the Pens’ will succeed as a team. This line may be the most important line to the Pens’ success this season. If they play the majority of their shifts in the offensive zone cycling the puck, this will tremendously help the Pens’ defense.
Jordan Staal obviously wanted more of an offensive role last year. The Pens’ have enough offensive fire power without Staal. They desperately needed a third line center like Sutter to come in a fill the prototypical role of a third line center. Sutter will be a great penalty killer, play great defense in his own zone and score some very timely goals.
Line 4: LW Tanner Glass, C Joe Vitale (C Dustin Jeffrey), RW Craig Adams
Don’t ever underestimate the importance of a quality fourth line. The fourth line is a line needed to bring energy and toughness to a team. The biggest task of the fourth line is to change the momentum of a game.
The Pens’ fourth line will be interchangeable as most fourth lines tend to be throughout a season. Adams is the only player who will see a regular role on a nightly basis. He is the Pens’ best shot-blocker and is heavily relied upon for his penalty killing.
Glass, Vitale and Jeffrey may get switched in and out of the Pens’ lineup quite a bit. Bylsma seems to like Vitale’s energy and Vitale is the best skater with the most energy out of the bunch. Vitale should see the most ice time behind Adams on that line.
D-Pair 1: D Simon Despres, D Kris Letang
The Pens’ hope pairing Despres with Letang will spark the play of Despres. This will force Letang into a leadership role trying to help Despres get acclimated to the NHL. If Despres does not perform, he will not last long with Letang.
D-Pair 2: D Paul Martin, D Brooks Orpik
They say opposites attract. Let’s hope that is true here. Martin is a smooth skating defenseman who is adept at moving the puck. Orpik is known for being a physical shutdown defenseman. Hopefully, the polar opposite styles of these two defensemen prove to be successful. Martin and Orpik need to have better seasons than last year for the Pens to succeed.
D-Pair 3: D Matt Niskanen, D Robert Bortuzzo
Niskanen will be in the Pens’ lineup every night. The feeling is that Bortuzzo will be the youngster to get the nod next to Niskanen at the start of the season. He’s the biggest defenseman the Pens have on their roster and he is very young. The Penguins’ coaching staff really likes puck-moving defensemen, but they need a shutdown guy. Bortuzzo is that guy, so the Pens hope.
The Pens’ defense is their biggest question entering this season. If there is no early season progress on defense, these parings will be switched around often. The Pens desperately need someone besides Letang to step up on defense.
If no one makes a positive impression, the D-pairs will be changing more than the coaching staff will want. Look for Deryk Engelland or Ben Lovejoy to take the spot of anyone who is not performing.
Goaltenders: G Marc-Andre Fleury, G Tomas Vokoun
Fleury is going to get the nod as the starter. He is going to play the majority of the games, but Vokoun will see plenty of action as well with so many games in such a short period of time. No matter how either goalie plays, Fleury will start the playoffs if the Pens qualify. If the “Flower” slips up like he did last post-season, Vokoun will find his way between the pipes very quickly.
Fleury has been here before. Everyone is questioning if he is going to bounce back from a poor playoff performance last season. When Fleury first broke into the NHL, everyone questioned if he could ever win the big game. He has a Stanley Cup ring to answer that question. Expect the “Flower” to bounce back and be ready to contend for a Cup now that he does not have to shoulder all of the goaltending responsibilities in the regular season.
Justin Glock has covered the Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers since 2011. As a lead writer, his Penguins knowledge traces back over two decades. For any requests, please feel free to contact Justin via email: JGlock10@gmail.com.