It's the topic that has been beaten to death and pounded in our minds for months now. However, it seems that every time there is a consensus on which lines would look best, General Manager Jim Rutherford or Head Coach Mike Johnston throw a wrench into the plan. Now, with the roster all but secured (hopefully), I'll take my stab at how I would like the lines to look come October.
This was a tough one, honestly. Personally, I'd love David Perron and Patric Hornqvist to stay on the top line, however, I feel that Chris Kunitz is due to have a bounce-back year and he has undeniable chemistry with Sidney Crosby. Phil Kessel, while I believe is better suited to play alongside Evgeni Malkin, will be able to adjust to Crosby and his skill set. With that being said, Crosby is the greatest player in the world, there's very little to argue about with that. Crosby should be able to make adjustments in his game to gel with Kessel and become one of the most dangerous one-two combinations in the National Hockey League.
Evgeni Malkin reprising his role as second line center was no surprise. Keeping Patric Hornqvist in the top six was again, a no brainer. It was the left wing spot that gave me a bit of a dilemma. KHL superstar Sergei Plotnikov will be making his NHL debut this season with the Penguins and provides them a bit of an enigma in terms of what he can offer. I think with Malkin's tutoring along with the determined playing style of Hornqvist, Plotnikov may be able to find a niche on the second line. Plus, rumor has it Malkin loved playing with Hornqvist and would like to continue their combination.
With this line, everyone is playing their natural position. Nick Bonino, acquired from the Brandon Sutter trade last month, is a proven third line center and one could even argue, a second line center. He brings speed, puck possession, and the ability to win key faceoffs that will be crucial for success on any given night. David Perron is a sharpshooter with grit and tenacity who I believe will be more comfortable this season and provide solid production. Beau Bennett, I'm still up in the air with him. I think that he has the talent to become something, but he needs to stay healthy. Hopefully he will.
This is the line that will draw the ire of Pens fans, I'm assuming. I promise, this was not intentional; hear me out. I have a good feeling about Tom Sestito, who is currently signed to a PTO. He's a big body who is looking to prove something to the NHL and its teams. He brings something the Penguins do not have on their roster and that could help him secure a spot. Matt Cullen going in ahead of Eric Fehr is simply for Fehr to have the necessary time to recover fully. I don't expect the 18-year veteran to suit up every game, but from October to December, he should see his fair share while Fehr recovers from elbow surgery. The last player to address is Pittsburgh fan favorite, Pascal Dupuis. Could Dupuis find time on the second or third line? Of course. But should he right away? I don't believe so. Battling a potentially life threatening condition with blood clots found in his lungs, I find it safer for Dupuis to play less minutes even strength, while still being able to contribute short-handed.
Looking at the lines, I don't expect them to stay in tact for all 82 games. I understand that changes are made and needs are addressed when a team is struggling. These lines that I've assembled I believe bring balance of speed, skill, and finish, be it with a goal or big hit. I find that the Penguins have more than their fair share of talented forwards this season and are arguably interchangeable. The only two absolute positives are that Crosby and Malkin are the one-two centers on this team.
Where everyone else will play, what wing, what line(s), how many minutes and what special units they'll be on still remains to be seen. I mean we haven't even started training camp, so everything is pure speculation.
But, I believe I speak for us all #PensNation when I ask, "Is it October yet?"
A look at the defense will be posted later this week.
All photos courtesy of penguins.nhl.com and nhl.com