FORWARD DEPTH CHART
With the lockout over, burning questions for the Penguins upfront is how the top-6 will shake up after the departure of Steve Sullivan and revamping a third line around the newly acquired Brandon Sutter, following the trade of Jordan Staal on draft day this past June.
Strong indications have been that Matt Cooke will enter camp as the front runner to move up to a top-6 role in a short-term role on a line with Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby. Other internal options who could get early looks include Tyler Kennedy, Eric Tangradi and a longshot candidate being Dustin Jeffrey who if given the opportunity, could be primed for a breakout season.
Despite the loss of Staal, the strength of this team is still down the middle with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Brandon Sutter, a combination that few teams can rival but losing a player of Staal's caliber is never a good thing. On the wings the Penguins have a good mix but like a lot of teams, could use another premier goal scorer. From a grit standpoint, the addition of the hard hitting Tanner Glass should make this team tougher to play against. One interesting development with this roster as it is, the team lacks veteran role players outside of the top 11 forwards, unlike last year when they had a veteran like Richard Park to fill that 12th, 13th spot and others in Wilkes Barre such as Jason Williams. The roster this year has more inexperienced part time NHL players on the organizational depth chart in the 12-16 forward spots.
PLAYER REPORTS on 18 FORWARDS AND BUZZ ON PROJECTED LINES
1. Evgeni Malkin
2011-2012 Stats: 50 Goals - 49 Assists - 109 Pts
Buzz: The reigning Art Ross Trophy winner returns to Pittsburgh with half of a hockey season already under his belt, unlike many of his teammates who opted not to play overseas. Malkin had 22 goals and 62 points in 36 games for Metallurg and should have a big year in him. He looks to become the first player to win back to back scoring titles since Jaromir Jagr did it four straight years (1997-1998, 2000-2001).
2. Sidney Crosby
2011-2012 Stats: 8 Goals - 29 Assists - 37 Pts
Buzz: All the Penguins and Crosby first hope for this season is a clean bill of health for the Penguins star center who appeared in just 22 games last season. Crosby is motivated to regain his status as the games best player but talk of him needing a premier winger on his wing will likely continue. Expectations are Crosby will open the season with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis on his wings. As the season progresses, maybe a Beau Bennett becomes an option.
3. Brandon Sutter
2011-2012 Stats: 17 Goals - 15 Assists - 32 Pts
Buzz: Brandon Sutter has big shoes to fill with the loss of Jordan Staal. He's an ideal third line center and will play a big role in Dan Bylsma's system but he's no Jordan Staal. "He's going to play an extremely big role for our team. Character, work ethic grit he plays with is very important to our team," head coach Dan Bylsma¬†said at the draft about Sutter. Sutter will anchor the third line and could emerge as a consistent 20 goal scorer in Bylsma's system