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Would Nick Johnson be a better option at winger than Jagr next year?
The two most frequent words Penguin fans have uttered the last few months have been "concussion" and "winger." Unfortunately, the word winger has been habitually used over the last few YEARS and not just months.
Petr Sykora, Ruslan Fedotenko, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Miroslav Satan are just a few examples of additions that needed to be subtractions due to lack of production. The Evgeni Malkin at winger experiment is done and should never be attempted again. His natural position is center. He gets paid a ridiculous amount of money to play center. He IS a center.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has some intriguing young talent, and Pittsburgh had a close look at some of it this year due to a large number of injuries. Chris Conner, Nick Johnson, Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Tangradi all finished the season on the big boys roster. Brett Sterling, Nick Peterson and Tim Wallace lead a talented crew of wingers on the Baby Penguin roster this year.
The big question remains, can any of these players be a top-six winger and score 20 goals next season? Tangradi probably has the biggest upside for next season and the potential of scoring 20 scrappy goals around the net. That projection is not for certain, and he plays left wing anyway. The 2011 Penguins need a right winger as bad as, well ,the 2010 Penguins needed a right winger.
They are just in luck—Jaromir Jagr happens to play right wing. The near-40-year-old scored a hat trick while leading his Czech Republic team to a 4-0 victory over the United States of America in the World Championship semifinals. He was not playing against top-tier NHL talent, but he certainly was playing against NHL players.
Last year for Russia, No. 68 netted 19 goals in 49 games. He was playing against subpar competition but was also playing in a league that sees lower scoring numbers than the NHL.
James Neal has a lot to prove in 2011 as well. He has the pedigree and upside to score a lot of goals in this league. Without Crosby, that production was not there upon his arrival in Pittsburgh. He should be an exciting player for the organization next year, but Neal and Chris Kunitz are not enough at wing.