Projecting Pittsburgh Penguins' Forward Lines for the 2014-15 Season
After a devastating Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in the 2014 playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins took little time to make what they believed was a necessary change to their front office. That decision was the firing of general manager Ray Shero.
According to Pens’ president David Morehouse, the team is not going through a complete overhaul. We noticed he wasn’t lying when we found out head coach Dan Bylsma was still a part of the organization.
With the exception of star forwards such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, it is uncertain who stays and who goes this offseason. The firing of Shero and the decision to keep Bylsma aboard proves how unpredictable the organization has become.
While fans have been left disappointed by another early playoff exit, it is absurd to say that it was thanks to lackluster talent. There were flashes of brilliance this postseason from both superstars and role players.
The talent on this team is absolutely exceptional, so let’s put all the drama behind us and speculate what the forward lines will look like come October.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.
Throughout the regular season, fans of the Penguins have gotten used to seeing Crosby and winger Chris Kunitz spending a lot of time together on the first forward line. It can even be argued that the reason Kunitz was selected to Team Canada in Sochi was thanks in part to how well they have worked together over the past seasons.
The right wing, however, has been open to a number of players. Newly acquired winger Lee Stempniak found himself on the first line playing alongside the two household names early in his tenure with the Penguins. Even recently in the playoffs, Bylsma fooled around with the lines by adding Malkin to the mix.
There is one man, though, who is truly deserving of the spot: Pascal Dupuis, who hasn’t seen ice time since tearing his ACL in late December. While the 35-year-old winger only tallied seven goals in the first half of the season, he still could have processed another 20-plus-goal season even this late in his career.
These three know how to play well together, and as a head coach that's all you can ask.
The Pens’ second line could easily be the top line on many other teams throughout the NHL, which is why this club is so dangerous.
Jussi Jokinen, who was a steal at last year’s trade deadline, has found himself sitting nicely on a line with Neal that is anchored by Malkin, who could easily be considered the world’s second-best hockey player (right after Sid, of course).
Jokinen and Neal are gifted shooters, while Malkin’s big frame and finesse strike fear down the spines of their opponents.
Physical and talented, the line of Jokinen, Malkin and Neal provides for some entertaining hockey. Expect Bylsma to stick with what has worked next season, as there is no reason to split these guys up.
Beau Bennett saw time in 21 games this season, netting three goals and four assists for seven points. The 2014-15 season will be a pivotal one in his young career.
He and center Brandon Sutter can blossom with help on the third line from veterans like Joe Vitale and Stempniak.
Stempniak hit the ice late in the year with Crosby and Kunitz on the first line, but don’t expect to see him there when the beginning of next season rolls around. Starting on the third line is a good place to begin when you haven’t yet played an entire season with a club.
There is a lot of untapped talent here, so expect these guys to be constantly on the move next season.
The fourth line of the Pens has seen many changes over the course of the season. Brian Gibbons, Marcel Goc and Craig Adams were the latest installment of the bottom six, and fans will most likely see them there next season as well.
Gibbons had a solid regular season, racking up five goals and 12 assists over the course of 41 games in his first year with the Pens. In the postseason, he had two big goals and an assist in eight games.
The acquisition of Goc at the trade deadline this year hasn’t proven to be either a good or bad move, since the team hasn’t seen a whole lot from him. He was out three weeks due to a foot injury late in the regular season, which kept him from exposing his true potential.
Along with Penguins veteran Adams, the fourth line has some potential upside for next season.