Since the acquisition of All-Star forward Phil Kessel on July 1st fans have been discussing what the Penguins top six will look like at the start of the 2015/16 season.
Predicting what the lines will be is nearly impossible, there are many factors that even the best analytic specialist, bloggers and sports columnists can’t foresee. Things like chemistry, injury and comradery are just a few that come to mind. So below I have put together what I feel would be the most balanced top six the Penguins could offer come opening night. Obviously this is all speculation, but that’s what makes this so fun.
This is a matter of opinion really. Both are interchangeable as their Corsi & Goals Against are similar when it comes to their impact on line-mates. In my opinion Crosby does have the slight edge over Malkin, but again both of their stats are very similar.
With the above charts you can see that both centers are prolific in the offensive department. Both have the ability to create opportunity for their line-mates as well as capitalize on them. So the real question is “what about their wingers, do the Penguins have the players to balance out two solid lines?”
Line 1 (Crosby)
There has been so much speculation around Kessel since his acquisition that many forget that he is a natural Right Winger. I have seen fan theories where Kessel and Hornqvist play the opposite wings just so people can see Bennett play in the top six. Thankfully Head Coach Mike Johnston will be smart enough to realize that you don’t mess with a player who has had success in a certain position. (*COUGH* *COUGH* Dan Bylsma)
Kessel WILL play as Crosby’s Right Winger. Not since acquiring Marian Hossa in 2008 has Crosby had such a prolific goal scorer for his line. Unlike Malkin, Crosby has a pass first mentality something Kessel will absolutely benefit from. This isn’t to say Kessel wouldn’t have success along side Malkin, but when looking at the two possible Right Wingers and the two most likely Left Wingers you will see that Kessel makes sense with Crosby.
Crosby’s left winger was the toughest to accept. I have been a HUGE supporter in finding a way to move on from this player due to his age and apparent signs of slowing down. However, looking at his stats he still may have a good bit to offer on the top line.
It is easy to negate his analytics when last season we saw his impact drop off after an injury caused him to miss 8 games. But going into this coming season it’s expected that he will be at 100% and ready to play and we all know what a fully healthy Chris Kunitz can bring.
The interesting part of having Kunitz, Crosby and Kessel together on the top line is the balance. What Kessel lacks in two-way play Kunitz makes up for. Add that to Crosby’s playmaking abilities along side Kessel’s scoring touch, we have the makings of a very threatening trio.
Prediction for Line 1 (Crosby)
Crosby – 35 goals / 110 points
Kessel – 52 goals / 73 points
Kunitz – 22 goals / 45 points
Line 2 (Malkin)
When GMJR traded away sniper James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling rumors began to swirl about how unhappy Evgeni Malkin was at the move. Malkin and Neal played well together. While Hornqvist isn’t the same player Neal is when it comes to tenacity, Patric makes up for it in leadership and composure.
When looking at the trade now, we see Pittsburgh, for the time being, has made out better than Nashville. in three fewer games (64) than Neal, Hornqvist put up two more goals (25) and 13 more points (51). Not something to get overly excited about, but Hornqvist did find himself playing a good amount of time last season along side Evgeni Malkin.
When it comes to Hornqvist and his stats we can see he has a positive impact on his line-mates in many aspects especially in his CA60. Patric is a hard nosed player, not unlike Kunitz, but also has the potential to score 30 goals in a season.
Moving on to Malkin’s other side I found myself struggling just like I did to accept Kunitz playing top line minutes with Crosby. Obviously we all know about the signing of Sergei Plotnikov and how he has the potential of being a fixture on Geno’s line. But I can’t sit here and say he has earned his place there yet, of course when you see who I picked for the Left Winger you may scratch your head and wonder “has this guy earned it?” but I can assure you it is a gamble worth taking.
Last January when GMJR acquired David Perron many fans were not excited, and rightfully so. In 8 seasons Perron has scored 20+ goals three times and 40+ points four times. And while he has a quick release and great vision on the ice he has never been consistent enough to give up a 1st round pick for. Luckily though Perron quickly showed Penguins fans why he is more than what his stats show. It’s just unfortunate that as quickly as he proved his worth he dropped off and disappointed many.
Before finding himself in Edmonton Perron showed a lot of potential in St. Louis. He had some of his best years there and was even counted on in many situations. Unfortunately the teams game-plan was not a fit for Perron. Looking at his last few years, stats wise, in St. Louis you can see he was beginning to struggle in the CORSI area. I believe this was a big reason he was moved to Edmonton.
Since moving on from the Blues and eventually on from the Oilers you can see Perron’s stats have improved quite a bit. He is beginning to play a more solid two-way game, add that to his shooting abilities and his knack for finding open space on the ice he is still a formidable top six player.
This isn’t to say Plotnikov, Bennett or any other payer on the team couldn’t potentially beat out Perron for that spot along side Malkin. But looking at Perron and his abilities I believe he has earned one last opportunity to find a way to play consistent good hockey in a top six role. If he can’t do it along side Evgeni Malkin, then it will be time to find a different option.
Prediction for Line 2 (Malkin)
Malkin – 45 goals / 98 points
Hornqvist – 29 goals / 63 points
Perron – 33 goals / 60 points
It’s all about balance folks. While having 2 top lines of nothing but playmaking and firepower may work on a video game, in real life you need to get the right pieces to mesh together. Playmaking, Grit, Scoring and two-way play are all important aspects for a strong line. Yes it is true there are instances where skill can overcome a deficiency in the grit department or where grit and hard work outplays skill, but with the team Pittsburgh has put together balancing out the top two lines like I did in this blog shows how strong a top six can look when doing so.
So what do you think?
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– Robert Slavinsky – @RSlavi_HTPens