Hockey season is just around the corner.
The Pittsburgh Penguins shook up the organization this past summer with a couple blockbuster trades.
Gone are Brandon Sutter, Nick Spaling, Paul Martin, Craig Adams, Christian Ehrhoff, Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington and Steve Downie.
Arriving in Pittsburgh are Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, Eric Fehr, Sergei Plotnikov, Matt Cullen and Adam Clendening.
The returns of Pascal Dupuis and Olli Maatta will also provide the Penguins with a much needed speed and skill boost.
The Penguins now have four lines of talent that can score, something that they have lacked the past few years.
Unlike past years, the Penguins finally have some depth at forward.
The top line of Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel will put up monster numbers.
The addition of Kessel gives Crosby that scoring winger he hasn’t had since Marian Hossa was a Penguin.
The second line of Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin, and David Perron is one of the best second lines in the NHL.
Teams dream of having first line talent as their second line.
The third line this year will consist of Dupuis, Bonino and Beau Bennett.
The Penguin’s first three centers are some of the best in the NHL.
My prediction for the fourth line will be Sergei Plotnikov, Matt Cullen,and Conor Sheary.
However, I could see Plotnikov playing alongside fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin on the second line.
There have been rumors of David Perron being traded to bolster the Penguin’s struggling defense.
Once Fehr returns from offseason elbow surgery, look for him to take Sheary’s spot in the lineup, or Plotnikov’s if he moves up.
Defense is the real concern for the Penguins this year, though.
The first pairing of Maatta and Kris Letang will be one of the best in the NHL.
The second pairing is where it starts to become sketchy.
Ian Cole will be either paired with Adam Clendening or Derrick Pouliot.
Pouliot has struggled mightily this preseason, and head coach Mike Johnston has made it known that his roster spot isn’t guaranteed.
This is somewhat of a shock as Pouliot is the Penguin’s top defensive prospect, and played a lot of minutes last year.
The third and final pairing is what scares me the most.
Rob Scuderi is old and washed up; that’s just reality.
I have no faith in him paired with Ben Lovejoy.
That pairing is just asking for trouble.
I’m hoping Brian Dumoulin can win that sixth defenseman job in the preseason and move Scuderi to the press box.
Also, watch out for Sergei Gonchar.
Gonchar is with the Penguins on a tryout basis, but I could see him sneaking into the initial roster.
While Gonchar’s defensive skills are long gone, he is still great on the power play and can help teach those skills to Derrick Pouliot.
Gonchar can also help Plotnikov adjust to life in the United States, and Gonchar is also a good friend of Malkin.
Goalie shouldn’t be a problem for the Penguins this year.
Marc-Andre Fleury had one of his best seasons last year, and I’m looking for him to keep that up this year as well.
Fleury was, in my opinion, the MVP for the Penguins in the playoffs.
My final take is this: the Penguins should be better suited for the playoffs this year, unlike the past few years.
Having four lines that can score is something that the Penguins have lacked in the past few years, but will enjoy this year.
Kessel is going to make an immediate impact on this team.
Kessel playing on a line with Crosby or Malkin will be deadly.
My bold prediction: Kessel has 40 goals playing alongside Crosby this year.