They have depth down the middle, but not just any depth, some of the best depth in the game today. They have some spark plug wingers to compliment those pivots, including bringing in a jilted superstar. The defense is chalk full of puck movers, which means that talented group of forwards are going to be able to break out of their own zone quickly. Then, their goalie led the league in shutouts last season, keeping his team in a whole lot of games.
Sure, nothing has been mentioned about how well this team is going to play defense and that is likely going to be a sticking point, especially against some of the good grinding teams from the West.
Nevertheless, the Penguins are prepared to play an up-tempo brand of hockey, which is hard not to get excited about, especially when you stare at this team on paper. It's going to be exciting, the Igloo is going to be rocking and I think us poolies, well, we're going to have a tough time getting our dirty little paws on these points.
Table last updated on August 14th
Most Intriguing or Breakout Player
Intrigue and breaking out are two things that Phil Kessel could possibly do in Pittsburgh this year and most of those outside of Leaf Land are all probably on the same page.
Kessel was never built to carry a hockey team, but he was designed to be the trigger man on a team that has plenty of options already on it. When he emerged in Boston, there were already guys there, who were supposed to carry the team, although his salary demands may have suggested otherwise. In Toronto, he wasn't the face of the team, until he was the only one scoring goals and that backfired in the team's face, as they looked to Kessel to carry him.
Now, entering the 2016 season, the move to Pittsburgh from Toronto gives Kessel everything he should desire as a player. A quiet place to play, where the focus is on the stars that are bigger than him and a couple of centres that can dish him the puck. It's really that simple. The guy will have a chip on his shoulder and he'll be much better for it.
First Round Picks
If Kessel is on the verge of breaking out, he should be in the conversation for a 1st round pick this year. Marc-Andre Fleury is going to win games, he'll be good for it. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are annual threats for the 80-point barrier. In total, the Penguins have four legitimate threats for the opening round, even if three of them are forwards in a goalie dominated pool.
Other Pool Worthy Forwards
Arguably, the Penguins could be considered a bit top-heavy and that's a valid point. Some might expect a bit of a drop off, as the team tries to find some chemistry from some of their other wingers and that may not add up well. Nevertheless, their forwards will score, how much will depend on how much time they play with the superstars. Patric Hornqvist will be a key trigger man, Nick Bonino adds depth down the middle, Pascal Dupuis returns from a blood clot, David Perron and Chris Kunitz will be complimentary wingers and even the two-way Eric Fehr could chip in.
Obviously, this team will go as far as their offense will take them.
Other Pool Worthy Defense
The defense leaves a little to be desired, especially beyond the injury prone Kristopher Letang, who is a grade A talent, but he needs to play 75+ games to be as excellent as his potential draft position will carry him. Olli Maatta is going to try and bounce back from an injury plagued year and Ian Cole may emerge as a quiet sleeper on their blueline as well.
Fleury will win some games decisively, he'll steal a rare game or two and there's a good chance he'll get shelled by a stifling defense/offense transition, when the team has a night off. Enter Jeff Zatkoff, who appears to be the favourite for the back-up role. When Fleury gets shelled, Zatkoff may not have whatever he needs to pull a game out, but he'll see some time and be on the right end of his team's own offense. May not be a bad option in the back-up role.
Possible Entries Into the Rookie Race
The Penguins have loaded up on veterans for the coming year, so there is every indication that there won't be a great deal of help from the rookies. There is a new Russian in town, Sergei Plotnikov, who was brought in as an undrafted free agent and he's coming with some expectations. Without having scouted him or seeing him play, it's hard to really get a feel of what he may or may not do, but keep your ear to the ground on this guy, since he's being brought in to dazzle.
Team To Pick From Late?
The Penguins are injury prone or at least their best players are. This means good things for the depth of this team, as they will be asked to step up, if and when (more likely when) gets hurt and roles are upgraded. You may have to be a bit more patient, waiting for something to happen, but the Penguins will likely be a team that has some offensive run off, down to their bottom six.
Unsigned Players and Salary Cap
The Penguins are free and clear of major contract hurdles already, nothing really holding anyone back. All unrestricted free agents that are left on their list are not likely coming back.
There are some cap concerns with the Penguins, as they have a couple (or a few) roster spots open and only about $2.1 million in cap space remaining under the ceiling. If it's only a couple spots and they decide to carry 21 guys into the season, which they are free to do, they won't be in terrible shape, just running lean. If Plotnikov and Brian Dumoulin make the team full-time, that's $1.725 million right there, leaving little to no flexibility on their roster.
The Penguins may very well be all-in on this early projected roster, barring the worst-case scenarios of the Long Term Injured Reserve.