EVALUATING PENGUINS POWER PLAY PERSONNEL
Pittsburgh’s No. 1 ranked power play from last season will have at least two changes on the top unit. Gone is James Neal who scored 11 power play goals, 26 power play points in 59 games last season and had 38 power play goals in his last three seasons with the Penguins.
Also out of the mix is defenseman Matt Niskanen who emerged as the Penguins best power play quarterback last season.
Replacing what Niskanen brought to the table is an easy fix with Christian Ehrhoff who could excel as a power play specialist and top prospect Derrick Pouliot could eventually be that player at somepoint over the next season or two.
Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet will be in charge of the power play and an area to watch in camp will be how the Penguins replace James Neal’s role on the power play. Evgeni Malkin becoming more of a focal point as the trigger man on the power play would be a start.
The Penguins have six primary players, seven if you want to include Paul Martin, to fit on the top unit:
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Patric Hornqvist, Christian Ehrhoff, Kris Letang.
At the top, Tocchet is likely to place Ehrhoff and Kris Letang as the two primary pointmen, though, Letang should have to earn his spot on the top unit not be given one.
The option is there to run four forwards, one defenseman, but can Chris Kunitz, Patric Hornqvist co-exist together?
Hornqvist and Kunitz each play a similar spot on the power play, low slot area/net-front. Hornqvist, though, is a stronger player from a net-front aspect but Kunitz provides the better shooting, passing, retrieval ability.
Kunitz played the second most minutes on the power play last season for Penguins at 283:12, averaging 3:37 per game. Patric Hornqvist had the most power play minutes of all Predators forwards at 221:56, 2:55 per game.
One is unlikely to get steady No. 1 minutes like they each got last year.
Kunitz scored a career high 13 power play goals in 2013-2014. Horqvist can only fit as that net-front player, but Kunitz while not ideal, could slide into the high slot for when the Penguins go with four forwards, one defenseman, but that spot is best suited for someone with a shot like a James Neal.