Eastern Edge – The Pen is Mightier

by Russ on July 25, 2017
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If we judge success by the number of Stanley Cups won, and we probably should, the Penguins are now tied with the Oilers for the most Stanley Cups amongst non-Original Six teams.

They have two of the games top players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, a couple of world class talents in Kris Letang and Phil Kessel, and the balance of the team this year was an interesting mix of youth and journeymen.

Even if the Penguins start the season with a little Stanley Cup hangover, it won’t matter, as long as they make the playoffs. Their back-to-back Cups were the first since Detroit turned the trick in 1997-98, and the Pens will try to be the first team to win three in a row since the Islanders won four straight in the early 80s.

 

Kris Letang

 

The what ifs are strong with Letang. The biggest what if, is what if he could ever stay healthy enough to play a full season? Just imagine the numbers he could put up. Once again, his 2016-17 season was cut short, but he still managed to record 34 points in 41 games, a 68-point pace. The year before, he scored 67 points in 71 games.

The 30-year-old defenseman has suffered a multitude of injuries including a stroke and concussions, but he does not suffer from chronic knee or shoulder injuries. The concussions are the most worrisome, as after one good hit, he could be gone for a long time, yet the same could be said for Sidney Crosby and several other stars and you shouldn’t hesitate to select them on draft day.

In most leagues, owning Letang is a no-brainer because when he plays, he puts up top-flight numbers for a defenseman. If he succumbs to another injury, you can simply place him on IR and pick up another player and rotate in the flavor of the week. In leagues using a salary cap, there are usually high-priced replacements on waivers, too.

 

 

Jake Guentzel

 

Guentzel’s play during the playoffs was truly eye opening, he recorded 21 points in 25 games. He split the regular season between the AHL and the NHL, recording 42 points in 33 AHL games, while netting 33 points in 40 NHL contests.

In his three years of college hockey, Guentzel increased his goals and points totals each season, culminating in 19 goals and 46 points in 35 contests in his final season. The 22-year-old rookie is receiving recognition for having a high hockey IQ. His college coach, who might be slightly biased, called Guentzel’s hockey sense “world class” and even Crosby himself called the rook “really smart” and confirmed he has “really good hockey sense”. It's high praise indeed.

With the confidence gained from a remarkable playoff run, we can only imagine what a full season beside Crosby might look like. How does 70 points sound? Yeah, that seems a tad optimistic to me, too. But 65 works just fine.

 

 

Conor Sheary

 

Positive:  Sheary played more than 85 per cent of his even-strength shifts with No. 87.

Negative:  A sub-par playoff performance saw Sheary record seven points in 22 contests, which also included some healthy scratches.

The 25-year-old winger had 23 goals and 53 points in only 61 NHL games riding shotgun to Sidney Crosby this past season. In the previous campaign, Sheary lit up the AHL for 36 points in 30 matches, while adding 10 points in 44 NHL contests. He also had 10 points in 23 NHL playoff games.

His mediocre showing this postseason had to have hurt the restricted free agent’s bargaining position, but thanks to the salary cap, he’s still the odds on favorite to round out the top six in Pittsburgh.

 

 

Justin Schultz

 

Can Schultz repeat the 50 points he had last year? My money says no, but his points are directly linked to the health of one Kris Letang. Like most teams, the Pens rarely go with two defensemen on the top power-play unit. When Letang is healthy, he’ll gobble up the prime ice time.

Expecting another 30 even-strength points from Schultz isn't out of the question, but you shouldn’t count on an extra 20 power-play points with a healthy Letang in the fold. It’s safe to assume 10 points with the man advantage and possibly another 10-15 depending on how many games Letang misses.

 

 

Phil Kessel

 

For all the flack Kessel receives, you can’t fault his talent or production. He has more value in points-only leagues, but in rotisserie setting, he only really hurts you in penalty minutes and hits. The guy contributes in many other categories, case in point, from this season: 23 goals, 47 assists, 70 points, 30 power-play points and 229 shots on goal.

Coming from a former two-time 37 goal scorer, his goal total this year was certainly underwhelming, but the 47 assists were a career-high mark. His shots on goal were the lowest since his sophomore season (lockout year equaled 275 pro-rated), but still a decent total.

It’s hard to argue with Kessel’s postseason success over the last two years; 45 points in 49 games, but the majority of us poolies have more interest in his regular season totals. After a 59-point regular season debut in Pittsburgh, his 70-point effort last year is right about what you should expect from the much-maligned winger moving forward.