Part 22 in my "State of the Franchise" series. Getting into the single digits! Sorry I've been taking so long, the other ones were prewritten on Word Docs before I posted them which meant all I had to do was post em. Now I have to find time to write up the remaining ones, as well as edit previous blog psots to fit the offseason changes (i.e. Rick Nash).
Feel free to leave comments; I'm always willing to take feedback and I readily accept that I'm not the next Charles Dickens, so any constructive criticism would be great.
Current Rankings List:
20. Tampa Bay
22. Los Angeles
25. New Jersey
30. San Jose
#9: |Pittsburgh Penguins
Top Fws: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal
Top Ds: Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik
Top G: Marc-Andre Fleury
Top 3 Under-23s:
1. F Brandon Sutter (23)
Top 5 Prospects
1. D Joe Morrow (19)
2. D Simon Despres (21)
3. F Beau Bennett (20)
4. D Derrick Pouliot (18)
5. D Olli Maatta (18)
Prospect Pool Rating:
Bluechip Talent: B
The Penguins have two superstar centers occupying their top 6, plain and simple. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby give the team a chance to win every night. They also have depth behind the two with Brandon Sutter, Dustin Jeffrey and Joe Vitale filling out the rest of the spots. The team has two capable NHL starting goalies in Fleury and Tomas Vokoun, and the backend possess a good blend of aggression and mobility.
The team, beyond the trio of Crosby, Malkin and James Neal, really lacks in high-caliber offensive players up front. While Malkin has basically marked down his wingers with Neal and Chris Kunitz as his flankers, the ever-present search for a true scoring winger to play with Sidney Crosby continues. The biggest issue is team health; most of their best players have spent significant time in the trainer's room over the past three seasons, including their 3 best players in Crosby, Malkin, and Letang.
With the trade of Jordan Staal to Carolina, the team managed to acquire three more high-end defensive prospects, giving them arguably the strongest and deepest defensive pool in the NHL. From two-way defenders such as Brian Dumoulin and Simon Despres to offensive juggernauts such as Joe Morrow and Derrick Pouliot to no-nonsense shutdown blueliners like Scott Harrington, the team looks like it's going to be set for the foreseeable future on the backend. The team also has some depth at each of the forward positions.
Beyond Beau Bennett and potentially Eric Tangradi, the team lacks potential top 6 wingers and scoring forwards in general. While they have a couple of players at the C position, the players currently occupying that position in their system are depth forwards at best. The team lacks a high-end goalie, and depth in general at the goaltending position. Although the team recently tried to patch up these hoels via the 2012 draft, the selected players are likely a few years away from the pro level.
The Penguins have been one of the best teams in the league in the regular season for a number of years now. That wasn't any different this past season, as Pittsburgh rode a rejuvenated Evgeni Malkin to a playoff berth against Enemy Number 1 in the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. Crosby was back, Letang was back, Malkin was on; the Pens had all the ingredients they needed to make waves in the psotseason. Instead, a horrid defensive effort coupled with less-than-stellar goaltending led to the Pens flaming out in the first round for the second straight season.
Pittsburgh still has all the key pieces of a championship caliber team. They have depth and high-end skill up the middle. They have a number one goalie capable of stealing games, and a backup who can relive him without a major drop in capabilities. They have a number 1 defender and a big-time puckmoving defenseman, as well as a physical shutdown defender. The team's best players still have plenty of years ahead of them and their prospect pool is full of potential NHLers.
The Pens, despite having lost a few key pieces this offseason, will again be looking to clinching a playoff berth in the upcoming season. They should remain competitive for a long time, as long as the core of the team remains intact.