By their standards, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a disappointing 2018-19 season. They finished the regular season third in the Metropolitan Division with a 44-26-12 record before being swept by the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs. Sidney Crosby and the first line were as dominant as ever, but the Penguins lacked depth scoring at times during the season. Evgeni Malkin finished the year with 72 points in 68 games but scored just 21 times. Patric Hornqvist registered just 37 points in 69 games and Derick Brassard managed a measly 15 points in 40 games before he was flipped to the Panthers.
Malkin reportedly had a fallout with former linemate Phil Kessel, leading to Kessel being shipped out to Arizona in the off-season. Alex Galchenyuk certainly has upside, and what better way to unlock his potential than to have him play on Malkin’s wing, but the Penguins will miss Kessel’s production.
The Penguins were dead-set on improving their forward depth in the off-season, sending former first-round pick Olli Maatta to the Blackhawks in exchange for Dominik Kahun and a 2019 fifth-round pick. Pittsburgh then locked up UFA Brandon Tanev to a six-year contract carrying an AAV of $3.5M. The 27-year-old winger scored 14 goals and added 15 assists while playing just over 14 minutes a night for the Jets last season.
Crosby and Jake Guentzel will continue to be a staple on the Pens’ first line in the 2019-20 season. The two of them were dominant together at 5v5 last season, posting a 55.07 CF% while averaging 32 scoring chances per 60. Crosby and Guentzel will likely have a revolving door as a line-mate for most of the season. Jared McCann, Dominik Simon, Nick Bjugstad, and Bryan Rust all saw time on the first line last season, and you can add the newly-acquired Kahun into that mix now, too. To start the season, Galchenyuk is expected to take over for Kessel as Malkin’s primary line-mate, while Bjugstad and Hornqvist will likely form the nucleus of line three. Even without Kessel’s point-per-game production, the Penguins still have one of the better top-nines in the NHL.
Sidney Crosby (C)
- — Fresh off his sixth season with at least 100 points, Crosby will continue to do nothing but produce in 2019-20. He scored 35 goals while adding 65 assists in 79 games last season. After health problems plagued Crosby early in his career, the 32-year-old has evolved into one of the more durable players in the game. He’s missed just 17 games combined over the last six seasons. Kessel’s departure could have a slight impact on Crosby’s power-play production, but the Kid is still a lock for 90 points this season. There are only 3 or 4 players with an argument for going ahead of Crosby on draft day.
Evgeni Malkin (C)
- — Unlike Crosby, injuries have continued to limit Malkin’s production throughout the prime of his career. Dating back to 2013-14, the Russian superstar has missed an average of 16 games a season. If he can stay relatively healthy in 2019-20, Malkin could be due for a bounce-back season. He’s campaigned for more ice-time all off-season and is expected to get his wish come October. He’ll need to improve his shot volume if he wants to regain his status as a top 10 fantasy player, and what better way to make that happen than an uptick in usage. The upside is obvious, but it’s more risk than I care to take on in a first or second-round pick.
Jake Guentzel (LW/RW)
- — Guentzel took advantage of playing a full season alongside Crosby, potting an even 40 goals while adding 36 assists in 80 games. He has ideal usage and opportunity and his shot volume continues to improve. While last year’s 17.6 SH% is a bit of a red flag, he is a career 16.3% shooter and any regression there could be offset by an increase in power-play time. Guentzel was routinely the odd-man-out on Pittsburgh’s first power-play unit last season, but that should no longer be the case with Kessel out of the picture.
Alex Galchenyuk (C/LW)
- — Currently being selected in the 15th round on average, Galchenyuk is an obvious sleeper candidate this season. While his production has been underwhelming to this point in his career, Galchenyuk has never played with a better surrounding cast. He should get an extended look with Malkin to start the season and could easily lock up a spot in the Penguins’ top-six. He’s more than worth a flier at the end of your draft.
Patric Hornqvist (RW)
- — Hornqvist should be better than he was last season, but I’m still not expecting him to be relevant in standard leagues. His spot on the top power-play unit makes him a lock for 20 goals if he can stay healthy, but he is projected to start the season on the third line. I’d be surprised if he’s able to crack 45 points this season.
Dominik Kahun (LW/RW)
- — Kahun would be worthy of speculative add should he see any ice time with Crosby and Guentzel on the first line. We’ve seen players with a lot less offensive upside than Kahun become fantasy relevant after playing with Crosby (looking at you, Pascal Dupuis). Kahun registered 13 goals and 24 assists as a rookie in Chicago last season.
Assuming they can stay healthy, the Penguins should have an above-average defensive corps this season. Kris Letang missed 17 games with a variety of injuries last season. He’s played more than 70 games just five times in his 13-year career. Justin Schultz would be the main benefactor should Letang miss any more time this season. The 29-year-old offensive defenseman played in just 29 games last season thanks to a fractured left leg. Brian Dumoulin should continue to see heavy minutes as Letang’s 5v5 partner, while Maatta’s departure should result in an increased role for Marcus Pettersson.
Kris Letang (D)
- — Health is always a concern with Letang, but you can bank on elite production if he is in the lineup. He registered 16 goals and 40 assists in 65 games last season, a pace that is more than sustainable for him in 2019-20. Letang’s ice-time will continue to be through the roof and his role atop the Penguins’ power-play gives him an incredibly sturdy floor. I’d say the injury concerns are already baked into his ADP of 48.9, so I would select him with confidence on draft day.
Justin Schultz (D)
- — Schultz’s upside is capped so long as he’s behind Letang on the depth chart, but he should be able to maintain a half a point-per-game pace in his current role. That means he’s rosterable as a fourth defenseman as is, and his value would increase tenfold should Letang miss any time. His current ADP of 155.8 is just a tad early for me. I’d be a buyer a round or two later.
Matt Murray is the unquestioned number one in Pittsburgh, but he’s yet to prove he can stay healthy for a full 82-game season. He posted a .919 SV% along with a 29-14-6 record in 50 appearances last season. Casey DeSmith has proven himself to be one of the better backups in the NHL, capable of filling in for Murray in a moment’s notice. He registered a .916 SV% in 36 games for the Penguins in 2018-19. It won’t be anything near a timeshare, but DeSmith should see more run than the average backup as Pittsburgh looks to ease Murray’s workload.
Matt Murray (G)
- — The concerns about his durability are valid, but Murray is currently being drafted as the 12thfantasy netminder off the board. He is a high-end starter whenever he’s healthy, and there are no lingering injury concerns around Murray heading into the new season. If you’re really worried about Murray staying healthy, you could always handcuff him with DeSmith. He offers great value at his current ADP.
Casey DeSmith (G)
- — As I just alluded to, DeSmith is one of the more valuable handcuffs in fantasy hockey. He has performed well when called upon, his starter has a history of being injury-prone, and the team in front of him is pretty damn good. Alternatively, he could provide some value as a third netminder should you run into goalie trouble on draft day. His career .917 SV% means he’s pretty much a must-start whenever he does get the nod, and he should see around 25 starts even if Murray does manage to stay healthy.
Projected Scoring Leaders
|S. Crosby (38)||S. Crosby (59)||S. Crosby (97)||S. Crosby (12)||S. Crosby (32)|
|J. Guentzel (36)||E. Malkin (46)||E. Malkin (78)||E. Malkin (12)||E. Malkin (30)|
|E. Malkin (32)||K. Letang (44)||J. Guentzel (72)||P. Hornvqvist (9)||K. Letang (22)|
Penguins in the DFO Top 300
- 5 — Sidney Crosby (C)
- 12 — Evgeni Malkin (C)
- 33 — Jake Guentzel (LW/RW)
- 43 — Kris Letang (D)
- 95 — Matt Murray (G)
- 165 — Justin Schultz (D)
- 184 — Alex Galchenyk (C/LW)
- 203 — Casey DeSmith (G)
- 250 — Patric Hornqvist (RW)
- 292 — Dominik Kahun (RW)
|2||PITTSBURGH PENGUINS||42-30-10||94 PTS|
|3||CAROLINA HURRICANES||41-30-11||93 PTS|
|4||PHILADELPHIA FLYERS||43-33-6||92 PTS|
|5||NEW YORK RANGERS||40-32-10||90 PTS|
|6||NEW JERSEY DEVILS||40-34-8||88 PTS|
|7||NEW YORK ISLANDERS||39-33-10||88 PTS|
|8||COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS||37-35-10||84 PTS|
With the Islanders expected to take a step back this season, the Metropolitan Division projects to be a two-horse race between the Penguins and the Capitals. Though their core continues to age, Pittsburgh still has all the makings of a 100-point team and should be in contention to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. The current playoff structure lends itself well to that scenario, with the Lightning, Maple Leafs, and Bruins being forced to scrap it out in the first two rounds. They might not be as talented as they once were, but I wouldn’t bet against Sidney Crosby and Co.