Predicting Pittsburgh Penguins' Best Player at Each Position in 5 Years
Five years ago, the city of Pittsburgh succumbed to the spectacular feeling that came with winning the Stanley Cup. The Penguins were littered with talent during that summer of 2009 championship run, which had everyone believing a dynasty was in the making.
Half a decade later, early postseason exits and question marks surrounding players’ true potential are all that seem to inhabit the Steel City hockey club. While the team has undergone what some may call an overhaul under newly minted general manager Jim Rutherford, the Penguins are still thirsting for another sip from Lord Stanley’s chalice.
In five years' time, this squad will most likely have undergone another makeover whether or not it has experienced that feeling of winning it all again. While faces may come and go, let's take a look here at the best players to play wing, center, defenseman and goaltender in the next five years.
Center: Sidney Crosby
The face of a franchise is expected to be the top player on the roster well past his glory years. Captain Sidney Crosby will be lighting up arena lamps well past 31 years old, the age he will be five years from now.
The Kid netted 36 goals and 68 assists last year, which made him the league leader in the points department by the end of the regular season with 104. He also was named the league’s Most Valuable Player for the second time in his career.
At 26, Crosby is entering his prime. While he may be on the declining side of it when he hits 31, he will still be an 80-plus point scorer, which will be better than a majority of NHLers.
Wing: Beau Bennett
Twenty-two-year-old Beau Bennett has hinted that he may become a star sooner than later in his young career despite playing in only 47 games at the professional level (primarily due to injury). The California-born winger has the right skills to be a first-line player at 26-27 years old and may even get the chance this upcoming season to be a top-six forward.
As of now, the Penguins are still trying to solve the depth problem at forward. The future of this team's offense is currently entrusted in Bennett, Brandon Sutter and 2014 first-round draft pick Kasperi Kapanen. While Sutter is a center, Kapanen hasn’t played a single professional game at this level, which makes it hard to give this award to anyone other than Bennett.
Starting next season, barring any more injuries, we will finally get to see Bennett’s outstanding playmaking ability in a whole 82-game season.
Defense: Olli Maatta
Fans have come to understand that the Penguins have one of the deepest prospect pools in the entire league when it comes to blueliners. 2012 first-rounder Olli Maatta is just one of the talented crop of young defensemen that includes Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin and Simon Despres.
Maatta stands out from the rest of these guys due to the fact that he impressed coaches enough in the early parts of the 2013-14 season to remain on the roster for 78 regular-season games including each of the Penguins’ 13 playoff matchups. He racked up nine goals and 20 assists in those 78 meetings and added four more apples in the postseasons.
Maatta is in the infancy of his career and doesn’t turn 20 until late August. In five years, he will just be entering the best years of his livelihood. For someone who is so young and has so much potential, saying that the Finn will be the best defenseman on the Penguins is just an understatement. He may become one of the best defensemen in the entire league.
Goaltender: Tristan Jarry
The Penguins have done a great job of finding the right guys to play in net over the past couple of years. Sure, starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has received a lot of criticism for his postseason shortcomings, but he has proved to management that the team obtained one heck of a regular-season puck stopper in the 2003 draft.
In five years, it's safe to say Fleury will not be the starting goaltender. The man who will take his place could very well be 19-year-old Tristan Jarry. Drafted in 2013, Jarry possesses some of the great qualities it takes to become a No. 1 netminder in the NHL. The Hockey News gave him a nice write-up: “[Jarry] has already proven capable of backstopping a very strong squad at the junior level. His self-confidence brings out the best in his teammates, too. Hates to lose and shows it in his demeanor.”
In today’s NHL, it’s uncommon to see goalies begin their careers at ages younger than 24-25. Jarry will be 24 by the time the 2018-19 season rolls around and may be given the green light to play the starting role. Growing up with the team in the next five years will do wonders for this kid, so don’t forget about him in the meantime.