Matt Murray will look to return to his early career form this next year for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Free use photo from wikipedia.

In Part 3 of our Metro Division Preview, we take a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins. We have previously dug into each of the teams in the Atlantic Division and the top two projected teams in the Metro, the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes. With the two-headed monster of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins are a perennial Stanley Cup contender. It seems almost every other year, Pens GM Jim Rutherford attempts to remake a good chunk of the Pens’ roster in hopes of rejuvenating the team to make another Cup run. This is once again the case with the 2019-2020 season. Gone is star Phil Kessel, and a different cast looks to make up for his scoring prowess. Let’s take a deep look at the 2019-2020 Pens.

Goalies

  1. Matt Murray
  2. Casey DeSmith
  3. Tristan Jarry
  4. Emil Larmi
  5. Alex D’Orio

Matt Murray returns as the Pens starter in the last year of his contract. Since winning the Stanley Cup as a rookie, and then again in his first full NHL season, Murray has failed to meet the sky high expectations many have had for him the last few seasons. Murray has not looked nearly as dominant as his past early successes, even at times losing the starting role to Casey DeSmith. The Pens hope that Murray can return to form, though it is more likely that the Murray of the past two seasons is the Murray of the future. The Pens will hope that DeSmith can once again give Murray the push he needs and provide healthy competition for the starting position. DeSmith had an excellent year last season. He could potentially win the starting job from Murray if Murray falters. Time will tell, and time is running out for Murray to run with the full starting reins.

Tristan Jarry comes in as the third goalie. Many thought that it would be Jarry, not DeSmith, who would be pushing for a starting role at this point in his career. He has done well at the AHL level and could find himself lost on waivers if the Pens send him down. There is a rumor the Pens are trying to trade him to recoup some sort of asset, with the knowledge they are likely to lose him.

If that is the case, the Pens depth leaves much to be desired. Larmi was signed from Finland where he put up okay numbers last season, but he is far from a sure thing. They Pens may have to look for an AHL veteran sign to find some depth. Overall, the Pens, like many NHL teams these days, are hoping for average goaltending. The hope is one of Murray or DeSmith can provide that.

Defense

  1. Kris Letang
  2. Justin Schultz
  3. Brian Dumoulin
  4. Marcus Pettersson
  5. Erik Gudbranson
  6. Jack Johnson
  7. Chad Ruhwedel
  8. Janne Riikola
  9. Zach Trotman
  10. David Warsofsky
  11. P-O Joseph
  12. Nick Almari

In Jim Rutherford’s attempt at retooling the Pens, he has spent a ton of money on defenders the last few season. So far, the Jack Johnson signing (and his $3.2 million cap hit) looks like a disaster. Johnson was once considered a top four defender, but he has struggled for years, and last year was no exception. He is at best a third-pairing guy. Gudbranson was acquired last season. He too is vastly overpaid. He is a third-pairing guy who is making over $4 million a season. So far in preseason, it looks like the Pens are pairing Johnson and Gudbranson on the third-pairing, making their combined cap hit the highest of any third pairing defensive tandem in the NHL (and a terrible use of a team’s cap space).

Kris Letang returns as a solid number one defender. He always puts up high offensive numbers, though he does struggle with injuries every year it seems. The Pens hope he can stay healthy and continue to play in all situations. Justin Schultz is the next best option for the Pens on defense. Schultz too has had injury problems, but when healthy, can provide offense from the back-end. The Pens need him to stay healthy to run their second power play unit and help move the puck up quickly at even strength.

Brian Dumoulin is the Pens’ best defensive defender. He will play in all situations and be relied on for his penalty killing ability. Marcus Pettersson had a solid season in Pittsburgh after being acquired from Anaheim half-way through last season. He surprisingly signed a really cheap contract and will fit in the Pens top six.  Pettersson is more of a defensive minded defender but possess okay speed and passing ability.

One of Ruhwedel, Riikola, Trotman, and Warsofky may make the roster as a seventh defender, with Ruhwedel likely having the upper hand due to his past experience. Overall, while the Pens defense has some pieces, they are very much lacking in overall depth. The Pens are banking on Letang and Schultz staying healthy if they are to be successful. Time will tell if this is the right gamble.

Forwards

LW C RW
1. Bryan Rust 1. Sidney Crosby 1. Jake Guentzel
2. Dominik Kahun 2. Evgeni Malkin 2. Alex Galchenyuk
3. Brandon Tanev 3. Jared McCann 3. Patrik Hornqvist
4. Dominic Simon 4. Nick Bjugstad 4. Zach Aston-Reese
5. Adam Johnson 5. Teddy Blueger 5. Anthony Angello
6. Sam Miletic 6. Andrew Agozzino 6. Sam Lafferty
7. Thomas DiPauli 7. Joe Blandini 7. Ryan Haggerty

As Crosby and Malkin go, so does this team and this forward group. Both stars are aging but are still dominant. Crosby is always good for an MVP caliber season, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down even in his early 30’s. Malkin had a tough season by his standards last year, but he seems highly motivated to return to form this season. Jake Guentzel scored 40 goals and could easily repeat if Crosby is his set-up guy. Galchenyuk, acquired in the Kessel trade, will have an opportunity to play with Malkin. He is highly skilled and could have a career year this season.

Hornqvist is slowing down a bit, but still could get between 15-20 goals in a supporting role. He brings tenacity to the fore check and is beloved by his teammates. Rust, Kahun, Tanev, McCann, and Bjugstad are all third-line types who will compete for a top six forward role. Kahun has produced for two seasons and was acquired from Chicago. He may have the best chance to stick. McCann is highly skilled, but at this point, seems like a solid third-line center. He may see some time in the top six also. Simon, Aston-Reese, and Blueger will compete for fourth-line roles. Overall, this group has some pieces but is less deep than in years past. Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, and Galchenyuk will be relied on heavily for everything offensively this season.

Bottom Line

This probably on paper is the worst Pens team in about five seasons. However, the story of this franchise remains the same: they are a contender as long as Crosby and Malkin are healthy. They will be in the playoff mix once again and will look to round out their roster through acquisitions at the trade deadline.