2013 NHL Season: 5 Bold Predictions for the Pittsburgh Penguins

Michael PrunkaCorrespondent IJanuary 17, 2013

2013 NHL Season: 5 Bold Predictions for the Pittsburgh Penguins

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    As the 48-game season quickly approaches, there’s a lot of hope for the 2013 Pittsburgh Penguins. There are plenty of bold predictions to make about the team—winning the Stanley Cup being but one.

    A newcomer like Brandon Sutter and a mainstay like Marc-Andre Fleury share one thing—there’s reason to believe they’ll have career years.

    Plenty of predictions surround the team’s offense. Even though they’ve lost Jordan Staal, surely they can still be among the NHL’s top teams in terms of goal scoring. On an individual basis, perhaps a player can bring home the team’s second consecutive Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophies.

    With the season opener closing in, here are five bold predictions for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Brandon Sutter Will Have a Career Year

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    The Penguins aren’t expecting Brandon Sutter to fill the gap in offensive production left by Jordan Staal. That wasn’t what he was brought in to do. That doesn’t mean he won’t come close, though.

    During training camp, Sutter has been centering the third line with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy on his wings. This line will provide a healthy combination of checking power, grinding and scoring depth.

    During his time as a Hurricane, Sutter’s career high was 21 goals and 40 points in the 2009-10 season. It’s hard to believe that the 23-year-old forward has already reached his zenith.

    Kennedy and Cooke have already proved their ability to post 30 points in a season.

    If the line can develop chemistry during the abbreviated preseason camp, they could be an important group of scorers for the Penguins. All three of the third-line forwards are adept at fighting for pucks and even forcing turnovers.

    On top of that, Sutter may get chances to skate with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. Head coach Dan Bylsma said that he likes the idea of Sutter being able to take right-handed faceoffs.

    Since the lockout cut into half the season, Sutter won’t approach his record numbers from a few years back. With that said, expect to see a spike in his point-per-game ratio.

The Penguins Will Lead the League in Scoring

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    The Penguins jumped from scoring an average of 2.78 goals per game in 2010-11, to leading the league in goal scoring with 3.33 goals per game last season.

    There’s no reason not to expect more of the same from them this season.

    Evgeni Malkin stepped up big time last season to make up for Sidney Crosby’s absence, winning the Art Ross Trophy with 109 points. He and James Neal will continue to be one of the NHL’s most dangerous duos in 2013.

    Dan Bylsma has also decided to reunite Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis on the top line. This trio has been successful in years past and will only add to the team’s firepower.

Marc-Andre Fleury Will Win the Vezina Trophy

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    Marc-Andre Fleury has always been an anchor for the Penguins but never stood out as the NHL’s top netminder.

    He’s played at least 62 games in his last four seasons with the Pittsburgh club and has managed to keep his save percentage above .910 in three of those four seasons. Also, his goals-against average in those four seasons is 2.50.

    Those numbers are good, but they don’t come close to, say, 2012 Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist. He finished the regular season with a .930 save percentage and a GAA of 1.97.

    Fleury would have to make a big jump to finish the season with those kinds of stats. It’s completely plausible, though, and the Penguins have put him in a great position to accomplish it.

    Acquiring Tomas Vokoun from the Washington Capitals gives Fleury elite competition for the starting goaltender position. Other offseason moves, like the trade with the Carolina Hurricanes that brought Brandon Sutter to Pittsburgh, help give Fleury better defense in front of the net.

    If Fleury can put his 2012 playoff performance behind him and get his confidence back, there’s no reason to believe he cannot get it done. A big win in Philadelphia Saturday afternoon should help him and the Penguins hit the ground running.

Sidney Crosby Will Win Multiple Trophies

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    “Sid the Kid” is back and his concussion issues are behind him. After missing the bulk of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, Crosby is poised to play his first complete season in a few years.

    After all the work he did with the NHL Players’ Association, he’s as happy as anyone to finally be on the ice and skating with his teammates again.

    There are few things more dangerous in the NHL than a driven, hungry Sidney Crosby. The numbers don’t lie—“The Next One” has tallied over 100 points in four separate seasons. Barring another injury, he’ll definitely be among the league’s top scorers.

    What could be the deciding factor in making him No. 1 is playing alongside Dupuis and Kunitz. The line already has the chemistry to make it among the most potent in the NHL, which will help make Crosby an Art Ross frontrunner.

    Should he lead the league in scoring, his captaincy role could also put him in the conversation for the Hart Memorial Trophy for league MVP. His leadership has won him the Mark Messier Leadership Award in the past and it should play a big role in his pursuit of the Hart Memorial Trophy.

The Penguins Will Win the Stanley Cup

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    Maybe not the boldest prediction, but this is the biggest. The Penguins will win the 2013 Stanley Cup.

    While they’re coming off the heels of an embarrassing first-round exit in 2012, the experience should prove to be an eye-opener. It will help refocus the club on the importance of discipline and special teams, especially in the beginning of the season as players get readjusted to the NHL game.

    The top line of Crosby, Kunitz and Dupuis is one that has the potential to carry the team deep into the playoffs.

    Other than revisiting past strategies that have worked, they’ve made strides to improve glaring weaknesses. Brandon Sutter should round out a depth line of forwards that can fight the puck away from the opposition and convert on those plays.

    While the Penguins could use more offensive players like Kris Letang on the blue line, they’ve got plenty of defensive force between their six defensemen. Besides their top six, prospect Robert Bortuzzo could be on hand as a seventh blueliner. Bortuzzo could even find himself being rotated in occasionally, playing a shutdown role.

    Plenty of the factors that contributed to the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 will return in 2013. The fact that they’ve gone out of their way to address shortcomings, it’s hard to think of teams with more championship potential than the Pittsburgh Penguins.

     

    Michael Prunka is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist. Stay up to date with him by liking his Facebook page and following him on Twitter.