The Pittsburgh Penguins Players with the Most Potential at Every Position
Looking ahead to the 2014-15 NHL season, there are a variety of questions in need of urgent answering for the Pittsburgh Penguins, such as who will fill the vacant general manager position as well as what players the club will have to cut in order to satisfy the salary cap.
Despite these types of concerns, the organization does have a lot of things going smoothly for them. They have top-tier talent in almost every position on the ice along with a generous amount of young prospects ready to take the Metropolitan Division by storm as soon as their coaches say the word.
While the club hunts for Ray Shero’s replacement (and maybe Dan Bylsma’s as well), here are five players fans can expect to see playing on a higher level in the coming seasons. Each skater and goaltender has not been selected primarily by their age, but by how much of their actual potential can be reached in the coming years.
Right Wing: Beau Bennett
The Penguins need to start focusing on bringing in young, dynamic wingers through the draft or free agency. While some believe James Neal may be the only one of those left on the roster, I think the front office sees a lot of potential in Beau Bennett.
The Hockey News states that Bennett “has very good instincts with the puck and plenty of playmaking ability from the wing. Can play on either side of center and also has a good shot.”
Being versatile is a good trait to have because it gives coaches more room to be creative.
At 22, Bennett has a bright future ahead of him in the 'Burgh. I think it would be safe to say the young forward could be flying around Consol Energy Center as a top-six forward if not this season, then definitely next.
Center: Brandon Sutter
Set to become a restricted free agent July 1, Sutter is still hoping he can live up to the hype the Penguins’ front office expects from him ever since he came to the Steel City as part of the trade that sent fan-favorite Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes back in 2012.
While he hasn’t done a whole lot in terms of regular-season point production, I believe the Pens saw somewhat of a spark this postseason from the 25-year-old. He netted five goals and two assists in 13 games on both the second and third forward lines.
Sutter is a confident, two-way center that I believe needs just a little bit more time to showcase what he can do on a dynamic Penguins team.
Left Wing: Brian Gibbons
Massachusetts-born Brian Gibbons has had quite a trek to the NHL.
The 26-year-old saw his first big league action this season, making quite an impact in both the NHL and AHL, where he continues to provide support for the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in their pursuit of the Calder Cup. The Calder Cup playoffs is also where we saw this spectacular goal from Gibbons that garnered national attention.
At 5’8”, 170 pounds, Gibbons lacks the big stature that professional hockey players are known for, but don’t tell him that. He has a knack for putting the puck right where it needs to go, whether that is in the back of the net or on a long passing route to a fellow teammate's stick.
Gibbons has a bright future, and while he may never be the next Martin St. Louis, he has the opportunity to become a reliable mid-line forward in the years to come.
Defenseman: Olli Maatta
The front office has done a marvelous job drafting and acquiring talent on the blue line over the past few seasons. Nineteen-year-old Olli Maatta is proof of this.
Maatta, who saw time in 78 games last season, posted nine goals and 20 assists for the club while logging plenty of minutes. He has taken the time to craft the skills needed to become one of the NHL’s top offensive defensemen. It also helps he plays behind a guy who embodies just that in Kris Letang.
The Hockey News praised the young blueliner for his big 6’2”, 206-pound frame and his ability to play a complete game.
Maatta and fellow 2012 first-round pick Derrick Pouliot can give the Penguins peace of mind on defense while letting them worry about other areas of concern.
Goaltender: Jeff Zatkoff
If the Penguins don’t make a move during the offseason for starting netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, then I think we will finally see backup Jeff Zatkoff move in for the kill.
With questions swirling around Fleury’s future with the franchise, I believe management will be giving the 26-year-old the chance to see what he is made of. This is a big opportunity for Zatkoff to cease the crease.
He has the right tools to do it, too. He is a good-sized goalie who is known to never give up on a play. His numbers are decent as well. During the 2013-14 season, Zatkoff came up with a GAA of 2.61 and a save percentage of .912.
Whether he is the answer or not to the Penguins’ goaltending woes, the organization doesn’t have to worry too much, as they have three other puck-stoppers in the system who will jump at the chance to be in the show.