Power Ranking Pittsburgh Penguins' Top 6 Forwards for 2014
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ fresh new look on and off the ice for the 2014-15 season will hopefully halt the criticism surrounding the club and return them to Stanley Cup form.
It was certain the forward lines weren’t as finely polished as they were in 2009 when the team won its first championship since 1992. To solve this problem, ex-Carolina Hurricanes GM, Jim Rutherford, was brought in to make things right again.
Thanks to some attention-grabbing transactions in his first offseason in the ‘Burgh, Rutherford has primed this team for its next Cup run. The top six forwards are a blend of versatility, speed and physicality that will lead the rest of the squad back to the promised land that is the Stanley Cup Final.
As October nears, let’s take a look at the possible starting top six forwards and how they stack up as we start things off with Steve Downie.
6. Steve Downie, RW
Steve Downie is a 27-year-old winger who has spent his seven-year career with quite a few clubs around the league. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers were just a few pit stops on his way to the Steel City. Rutherford nabbed him this offseason, hoping he would bring more tenacity and grit to the offensive lines.
While he doesn’t contribute a whole lot in the points category, his energetic, physical style of play on both sides of the puck is a unique trait to have. He hits hard to and plays the puck well with his fellow linemates. However, he can play recklessly at times and has been known to take bad penalties.
All in all, Downie is known to be a great complement to skilled teammates. He has had success with the likes of Claude Giroux and Steven Stamkos so expect the same with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. His emotions tend to overrun him at times, which can make him unpredictable. That’s why he’s ranked here at six.
5. Beau Bennett, RW/LW
Beau Bennett is one of the younger skilled offensive pieces on the Penguins’ roster, and at 22, we will likely start to see him as a top-six forward at some point next season. Despite playing in only 47 games over the course of two seasons, the California native has gained a lot of valuable knowledge playing with some of the best guys in the league.
As I stated before, this team has a lot of versatile forwards. Bennett can play both winger positions and has incredible vision on the ice. He is much more capable of being a playmaker, even though the measly three goals and four assists that he mustered up last year hide it.
The thing that could prevent Bennett from earning a top roster spot next season would be whether or not he recovers from his wrist operation in time for training camp. The surgery took place in May, and recovery will take around four months to complete, according the Penguins’ official website.
Bennett has shown in the minors and in the pros that he is a very talented hockey player with a tremendous amount of upside. As Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis hit their dog days, don’t be surprised if this kid swoops in for the chance to play on the first forward line if he is able to stay healthy.
4. Chris Kunitz, LW
Olympic gold medalist Chris Kunitz had himself another career year at 34 years old after posting his first 30-plus-goal season as well as netting 33 assists. You don’t see a whole lot of established vets doing that each year.
Kunitz will no doubt be playing alongside Crosby again next season because it’s what worked in the past. Rutherford knows not to break up good chemistry. Heck, that’s what got Kunitz selected to Team Canada for the Olympics in the first place.
Kunitz will be the oldest of the top-six forwards, barring a miraculous career comeback by Dupuis. Despite having the best season of his career last year, age catches up to players fast in hockey, which means we could really start to see his decline as soon as next year.
3. Patric Hornqvist, RW/LW
Patric Hornqvist was a great addition to this lineup and will do a much better job than James Neal, the man he is replacing.
A former Nashville Predator, Hornqvist is a player capable of playing both wings and can play some good defense as well. He didn’t score quite as many goals as Neal did, but he can find ways to get the puck to the net from almost anywhere within the offensive zone especially in the blue paint.
The 27-year-old Swede is a bit small in terms of the average NHL hockey player, which means he can get worn down over the course of a season from the constant barrage of hits he takes by playing in front of the net so much. Adding some weight to his 189-pound, 5’11 frame would do him some justice.
Hornqvist would fit nicely alongside Malkin on the second line along with Downie. Downie provides hits, Malkin provides the points and Hornqvist is the in-between guy needed to do the little things. It was a steal acquiring him and Nick Spaling for Neal in the draft-day trade.
2. Evgeni Malkin, C
Evgeni Malkin is arguably the second-best player in the game just behind his captain. He is in the prime of his career, which means he will be hammering down the gas pedal in order to return to the Cup Final again.
In the playoffs last season, we saw ex-head coach Dan Bylsma mix up the lines a little bit by moving Malkin to the first line. It was an interesting decision that saw a little bit of productivity, but nothing major.
No one knows if the club’s new head coach, Mike Johnston, has any ideas to renew that figuration, but for now, the team should just stick to what they know works, and that’s having the big Russian anchor the second line.
Malkin is much more capable of recording better stats than the ones he knotted last season (23G, 49A). While they weren’t bad numbers to begin with, they were just decent for a player with his skill set.
Malkin is hungry. He wants to be able to score 50 goals again and sip from the championship a second time around. He played well last postseason, which proves he is capable of getting back to that Conn Smythe form, which won him the prestigious award back in 2009. It's hard to deny that next season will be one of his best yet.
1. Sidney Crosby, C
Sidney Crosby is coming off his best season yet.
The superstar won three of the most coveted awards that can be bestowed upon a player at this year’s awards ceremony.
He won the Hart Trophy, which is given to the player judged most valuable to his team, along with the Art Ross Trophy, which is awarded to the player who scored the most points in the prior season. Don't forget he also won the Ted Lindsay Award, which is awarded to the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Crosby, like Malkin, is in the heart of his career now, which means time is slowly ticking away. The hype that surrounded him when he was drafted in 2005 shouldn’t be for nothing. One Stanley Cup will not suffice for "the Kid." He can’t do it by himself, though. He will need to work well with these new acquisitions in order to turn this team into the dynasty that everyone expected it to be.
This team has always been a dangerous threat, and after a few disappointing seasons, the pieces have finally fallen back into place. As captain, it’s Crosby’s job to make sure it doesn’t come unglued again. In the wise words of Gene Kranz, "failure is not an option."