It feels like just yesterday we were watching the
Patriots Penguins skate around Bridgestone Arena with the their second consecutive Stanley Cup. The month was June, Hugh Hefner and Tom Petty were still kickin’ (R.I.P.), and Marc-Andre Fleury’s UPMC commercial was still popping up on your TV screen every five minutes. Fast forward the clock, and it’s already October. The leaves are starting to fall off the trees. MAF, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Matt Cullen, Trevor Daley, Mark Streit (who definitely doesn’t have cankles), and Ron Hainsey (LOL) are all wearing new sweaters. And we’re less than 12 hours until Gameday #1 of the Penguins’ 2017-2018 season. It almost doesn’t even make sense. Just like the players only get three months to prepare for the new season, we fans only get three months to rest up and prepare as well. It’s not really fair, to be honest. But I guess that’s just a first world problem you have to deal with when your favorite hockey team wins the Stanley Cup every single year (#NotManyDaysOff).
Anyways, with the St. Louis Blues coming to town tonight for Game 1 of the regular season, it’s time for a proper regular season preview (i.e. I forgot all about the season starting tonight until like two days and panicked because I knew I wanted to write a season preview, but I’m an idiot so this is all going to be a few days behind schedule). Today, I’ll be going over the forwards while tomorrow will be all about the defensemen/goalies.
As for your 2017-2018 Pittsburgh Penguins, the top two lines will remain status quo. Sid and the Kids will get their first opportunity to play a full 82 together (assuming Sid doesn’t get another concussion *wink, wink* Ryan Reaves) while Phil and Geno get to rekindle their longstanding love/hate relationship on the second line accompanied by Bryan Rust. As for the third and fourth line, you may have heard there will be a few changes this year. Most notably (and as mentioned previously), Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen have left for
greener browner pastures. There was a lot of talk this offseason about GMJR acquiring a third line center via the trade market, but at the end of the day, he decided to stand pat. Greg McKegg, a 25-year old forward signed by Rutherford on July 1st (and that of which I know absolutely nothing about other than the fact that he’s a 6′, 192 lb. forward with “good offensive instincts and standout speed”) will takeover the role of 3rd line center, while Carter Rowney will assume the same position on the 4th line. In addition to Carter Rowney, the 4th line will welcome another new face in bruising right-winger, Ryan Reaves, who was acquired by the Penguins back in June via a trade over draft weekend.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at the projected lines.
Guentzel – Crosby – Sheary
How did these guys play together last season? Well, to put it simply, they were really fucking good. I can go over all the numbers and fancy stats, but I’d be doing this site a disservice by dabbling into an area I have no business getting into. But don’t worry, in case you’re into that type of stuff, our [former] very own, Jesse Marshall, broke down the effectiveness of this line brilliantly last March. Yeah, I realize he wrote this over six months ago, but not much has changed. This group was basically just as effective in the playoffs as they were back in March, and they’re a big reason why the Penguins call themselves back-to-back Stanley Cup champs. They’re fast, they’re elusive af, and they possess enough talent to make other professional hockey players look like a bunch of scrubs at your local stick time. For instance, check out them embarrassing the New Jersey Devils just this past April!
This group is scary good, and it will be exciting if they can manage a full 82-game regular season together. Odds are injuries will pop up here and there, but you can basically bank on Sid scoring anywhere from 80-100 points while Guentzel and Sheary (who seems to get himself demoted from the trio every other month) pocketing 50+ as long as these two remain on the same line as a the GOAT.
Rust – Malkin – Kessel
Sure, Geno and Phil are going to bitch at one another like school children from time to time, but that doesn’t exactly mean there’s a problem. Both guys (while handsome af, if I might add) are highly skilled hockey players just trying to help their team win games. If that means Geno’s galloping all over the ice like a goddamn gazelle trying to make plays out of nothing, Phil’s gonna let him hear about it if he’s wide open in the slot and wants to shoot the puck. It’s as simple as that. The media (*cough* Ron Cook) is already trying to make back-to-back Phil seem like he’s a problem, but, in reality, he’s not. Phil Kessel’s gonna continue playing the exact same way whether you like it or not. He’s gonna score anywhere from 25-30 goals, play very little to no defense, and continue being the ironman he is. Geno, on the other hand, is a wild card. The guy can score anywhere from 70-100 points in the regular season, but it all comes down to health for the best Russian hockey player on the planet (SHADE ALERT). And quite frankly, it’s not exactly a bad thing if Geno misses a few games. Considering the fact the Penguins have played in over 200 hockey games over the past 24 months, taking a night off here and there will only help players like the Geno rest up for the larger goal ahead beyond the regular season. And oh yeah, Bryan Rust is pretty good, too. They don’t call him “Mr. Elimination” for nothing.
Hagelin – McKegg – Kuhnhackl
Of all four lines, this one’s definitely the 8-ball. We all know what we’re getting with Carl Hagelin. He may not have an elite-level scoring touch, but what Hagelin does possess is speed. And a fuckton of it. When healthy, you could argue Carl Hagelin is the fastest skater in the NHL. The man’s legs alone create scoring chances, which makes him a unique component on basically any line he plays on. As for “Kegger” and Tommy Kuhnhackl, well, let’s just hope this whole experiment thing works out. I’m not really sure if anyone outside of Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan viewed Greg McKegg as being the opening day replacement for Nick Bonino at 3rd line center, but that’s the reality we’re facing. The man’s only produced 9 points in 65-career NHL games, but GMJR/the coaching staff obviously saw something out of McKegg during the preseason. Like Bonino, the Penguins will use McKegg in a variety of roles including the second PP unit as well as the PK. As far as Kuhnhackl’s role is concerned, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets demoted to either the 4th line or the press box once Patric Hornqvist returns from his lingering
hand upperbody injury he sustained in the Stanley Cup Final.
Wilson – Rowney – Reaves
And finally, the 4th line. Aside from Ryan Reaves, the biggest change to the 4th line is the obvious one. Matt Cullen is gone. And no, he didn’t retire. Instead, he decided to sign a 1-year contract with his hometown team in Minnesota just so he can see what it feels like to play on a team that plays really well during the regular season then abruptly loses to an underdog in the first round of the playoffs (i.e. “the Bruce Boudreau experience”). Filling in for Cullen will be Carter Rowney. Rowney, the 27-year old entering his second year in the NHL, has proven he’s fully capable of taking over an expanded role after being inserted into the lineup during Games 2-6 of the Stanley Cup Final after Nick Bonino went down with a broken leg. As for the other two-third’s of the 4th-line, Scott Wilson will provide the speed and skill while Ryan Reaves plays “daddy” for the rest of his teammates by beating the everliving piss out of anyone who touches Sidney Crosby on the head. Sure, the Penguins asked Reaves to work a little more on his skating and offense this offseason, but that still doesn’t mean he won’t drop the mitts and fuck Tom Wilson up if he has to.
So there you have it. Perhaps we’ll see a little bit of a drop off as far as goal production goes (the Penguins were first in the league last year with an average of 3.4 goals/game) considering Bonino and Cullen are gone, but I can’t imagine it’ll far off. When healthy, the Penguins top two lines can go head-to-head with any of the other top lines in the NHL. However, we’ll find out soon enough whether or not GMJR will have to outsource additional talent to supplement the same level of goal-scoring depth the Penguins’ bottom-two lines have experienced over the past two seasons.
That’s it for today, folks. Tomorrow (or most likely sometime later this week when I get my shit together) we’ll preview the defense/goalies.
Let’s Go Pens!
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