NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will try to win the Stanley Cup for a third time in six seasons with the help of several new players throughout the lineup.
Changes were anticipated after the Penguins finished 40-23-6 (.623 points percentage) last season and then lost in four games to the Montreal Canadiens in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. In 2018-19, Pittsburgh was swept by the New York Islanders in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round.
Finding a complement on the first line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel was a priority, and the Penguins feel they accomplished that with a trade for Kasperi Kapanen. The right wing, selected by the Penguins with the No. 22 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, was part of a six-player trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Aug. 25.
Kapanen scored 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists) in 69 games for the Maple Leafs last season. The 24-year-old likely will fill out the top six with Crosby, Guentzel, Jason Zucker, Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust.
“[Crosby] wants to play with speed; he wants guys to hunt down the puck, and this gives Kapanen a great opportunity to be part of either Sid or [Evgeni Malkin’s] line,” Penguins assistant general manager Patrik Allvin said. “With [Kapanen’s] speed, I think there’s more too. I think he can really shoot the puck, so he could complement either [Crosby or Malkin] with the speed and that tenacity he has.”
Crosby scored 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 41 games last season; he missed 28 games recovering from core muscle surgery he had Nov. 14. Guentzel scored 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 39 games before he had shoulder surgery Dec. 31, 2019, ending his regular season.
Crosby and Guentzel played most with forward Dominik Simon at even strength last season; Simon signed with the Calgary Flames on Oct. 22. The season prior, when Guentzel scored 40 goals and Crosby scored 100 points, Rust was their most common linemate. Malkin led the Penguins with 74 points (25 goals, 49 assists) last season.
“Even the fact that they think I can be in one of those two spots is a huge honor for me, obviously playing with one of the two better hockey players in the world,” Kapanen said of possibly playing on a line with Crosby or Malkin. “… I want to be great. I want to come into [training] camp ready to go, show everyone I’m not messing around.”
The Penguins added depth by acquiring forward Colton Sceviour and defenseman Mike Matheson in a trade from the Florida Panthers for forward Patric Hornqvist on Sept. 24.
Forward Evan Rodrigues, acquired by Toronto in the trade for Kapanen, returned to Pittsburgh by agreeing to a one-year contract Oct. 9. Forward Mark Jankowski agreed to a one-year contract the same day, and defenseman Cody Ceci agreed to a one-year contract Oct. 17.
“That gives us speed on the wings (Kapanen and Rodrigues) and gives us the defensive center (Jankowski) we’re looking for,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “I don’t want to compare Jankowski to [Nick] Bonino, that’s not what I’m doing, but it’s more along the lines of (getting back to) what we had when we were having more success in 2016 and 2017.”
Jankowski has scored seven shorthanded goals in his four NHL seasons, including five in 2018-19.
Tristan Jarry is expected to take over as the No. 1 goalie after Matt Murray, who won the Stanley Cup twice during his five seasons in Pittsburgh, was traded to the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 7 for forward Jonathan Gruden and a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, which the Penguins used to select goalie Joel Blomqvist (No. 52).
Pittsburgh signed Jarry to a three-year contract Oct. 3.
“I thought that Tristan proved to us last season that he’s ready for the next challenge,” Allvin said. “Being the No. 1 goalie is definitely a big test, but I would think that, mentally and physically, Tristan is definitely up for it, for sure.”
Jarry last season had NHL career bests in games (33), wins (20), goals-against average (2.43), save percentage (.921) and shutouts (three). He made his postseason debut in Game 4 of the Cup Qualifiers, allowing one goal on 21 shots in a 2-0 loss to the Canadiens.
“I feel like we’re making headway,” Rutherford said. “Other teams are making headway too. We’re not just going to stop now. We’ll continue to look at our team, inside and out, and all the different things that you need to win.”