Pittsburgh Penguins' Most Improved Players for 2014
The NHL offseason is a time when players, coaches and even writers get the chance to improve their skills before the next year of hockey action gets underway.
The 2014-15 season will be a step forward for some players, but those who fell off the beaten path last year will have a great amount of pressure placed on them to regain their footing.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a few players who did not necessarily have atrocious seasons last year, but who didn't seem to play to their full ability or were limited by other factors such as injuries. As the upcoming season grows nearer and nearer, let’s take a look at three Penguins who will spring back from their performances of yesteryear.
1. Marc-Andre Fleury, G
The Penguins' franchise goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, has been pelted with criticism over his lackluster performances in past postseasons. It isn’t hard to deny that his work in the crease has been atrocious at points, but things seem to be looking bright for “the Flower” after he seemed to expel his playoff demons back in April of this year.
If you look at his stats in this link, you can see how mediocre Fleury’s stats have been since he backed the 2009 Pens team to its third Stanley Cup in franchise history. However, there is one postseason where his GAA and save percentage weren’t all that terrible. Last year, a save percentage of .915 was an amazing turnaround from his 2012-13 postseason percentage of .883.
There is no doubt Fleury will succeed in the regular season, and fans shouldn’t worry about his performance next April, as it finally looks as if the 29-year-old can return to his pre-2009 form.
2. Beau Bennett, RW
Beau Bennett was drafted in 2010 because he possessed versatility and scoring tenacity. Fans and management haven’t gotten to see a whole lot of either traits in the two seasons he has been a part of the club, mainly due to sporadic injuries.
In 47 total NHL games, Bennett has amassed only 21 points (six goals, 15 assists). Scouts and front office members alike have predicted plenty of upside from this 22-year-old California native and hope to see him blossom into the star that many think he can become.
Bennett is expected to be a top-six forward at the start of next season, which should give him added confidence due to the trust being instilled in him by the coaches. He can finally break out this season and do damage on the first or second line thanks to playing alongside superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
3. Evgeni Malkin, C
Russian superstar Malkin is primed to return to his 2011-12 season form once October hits.
Malkin turns 28 on Thursday and should be enjoying the fact that he is finally in his prime. Last season, we saw some good numbers come off the blade of the second-line center (23 goals, 49 assists), but many believe he is capable of so much more.
It’s been two years now since Malkin hit the 50-goal mark, which means he's hungry. A strong regular season rebound this year should yield another spectacular postseason performance.
This year will undoubtedly be the most important one of Malkin’s career. Sure, he was a part of the 2009 Cup-winning squad, but many expected him and Crosby to co-lead the Penguins to multiple league championships.
Of the three players I’ve listed in this article, I believe Malkin has the most to prove this year. He doesn’t have to score 50-plus goals to contribute, but he has to shoot more instead of trying to find the perfect shot. That is the biggest obstacle stars like him have to overcome.