Projecting the Best Pittsburgh Penguins at Each Position in 5 Years
Despite maintaining the third-longest current playoff streak in the NHL (seven seasons), the Pittsburgh Penguins have proven capable of finding cornerstone-type players in the later stages of the first round and even on down through the second and third.
Kris Letang was a third-round selection. Rob Scuderi was a fifth-rounder, albeit all the way back in 1998.
Mix in a high level of quality free-agent pickups and a rock-solid track record of coming out on the winning side of trades, and the Penguins have a bright future despite being a Stanley Cup contending team year in and year out.
With that in mind, it's interesting to consider who their best players will be within the next half decade.
Statistics appear courtesy of HockeyDB.com.
Center: Sidney Crosby
When it comes to making magic happen in the offensive zone, no one in the NHL is better than Sidney Crosby right now. It's unlikely that this will change any time soon. He's the guy who comes to mind whenever the phrase "generational talent" is tossed around, and he'll only be 31 in five years.
Unless the Penguins go out and trade for Steven Stamkos, or somehow manage to draft the next Crosby with the 27th overall selection two years from now, "The Kid" will still be Pittsburgh's top center in five years.
If you're sitting there saying "Well that's no fun!" then maybe head over to YouTube to watch some highlights. Crosby is a player who can do things no one else can, and he'll be one of the top players around, barring any injury issues.
Right Wing: Beau Bennett
Beau Bennett was a guy who a lot of people were excited to see play this year. He was projected to skate on a line with Evgeni Malkin, and if Bennett clicked, then it would give the Penguins some much-needed chemistry on the second unit.
His season has been totally derailed by injuries, and his recent wrist surgery will force him out of action for upwards of eight weeks according to Josh Yohe of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Five years from now, this start-and-stop rookie campaign will all be a distant memory, and Bennett will be among the stronger two-way wings in the NHL. While he never has blown anyone away with his speed, the 22-year-old will just be getting to his peak in five years and could be scoring 20 or 30 goals as a top-six winger by that point.
Left Wing: James Neal
Another "no fun" pick, but the Penguins don't currently possess any youngsters who could push James Neal for the title of best left wing in the organization. He's only 26 and is only just beginning to scratch the surface of his scoring potential.
He scored 40 goals in 2011-12 and would have done so again in 2013 had the season not been cut short by the lockout. Neal has six goals in only 10 games this year, and there's no reason to think that he'll stop pumping shots home on a regular basis for the next six or seven seasons.
Like Crosby, Neal will be 31 in five years and will probably still be playing at a very high level. Injuries are always a concern, but barring any lingering or nagging issues, Neal will be among Pittsburgh's scoring leaders for years to come.
Defense: Derrick Pouliot
The Penguins have shown a great deal of patience while developing Derrick Pouliot, and he will be rewarding the team for that patience within the next five years. It wouldn't be surprising to see him emerge as a solid rookie next season after spending four seasons with the Portland Winterhawks.
When he began his WHL career, Pouliot was considered to be a one-dimensional offensive defender. While some of those thoughts continue to linger, those who have seen him play over the last season or so know that he's spent a great deal of time and energy developing his game in his own end.
That will be the key for Pouliot, who projects pretty cleanly as a top-pairing blueliner at this point. He's the top prospect in the organization and a true blue-chip defenseman.
Goalie: Tristan Jarry
Pittsburgh made Tristan Jarry the 44th overall selection at the draft this summer, despite the fact that he was virtually untested at the junior level. They'd seen enough from the netminder through 27 games to snatch him up, and his level of play this year has only solidified his reputation within the organization.
Through 21 games in 2013-14, the 18-year-old has a 13-7-1 record and is maintaining an airtight 2.08 GAA to go along with a spectacular .921 save percentage.
Current No. 1 guy Marc-Andre Fleury will be 34 in five years, and who knows where his erratic play will have taken him by then. Jarry will push whoever the top dog is in Pittsburgh within the next three or four seasons, though.
He's got ice water running through his veins and already shows a mental toughness akin to that of top-end NHL goalies.