To start the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins were a mess.  They were sitting in the middle of their division, their studs were extremely struggling and the defense was lost without Kris Letang.  The Penguins fired their coach, Letang sparked the entire team and the rest is history.  Maybe the Penguins need to fire their coach every season, it’s worked twice now!  Sorry, Mike Sullivan.  Anyways, the Penguins have a handful of superstars worthy of a top pick in drafts, a few middling players and the unknown between the pipes.  Let’s take a look at the defending champion’s roster:

GOALTENDING

The ironic thing about the Penguins slow start was that their usual Achilles heel, Marc-Andre Fleury, played very well.  His numbers on the season were terrific, posting 35 wins, 2.29 GAA and a career high .921 sv%.  The problem is that Fleury was injured, Matt Murray stepped in and led the Penguins to the Cup.  The Penguins haven’t traded Fleury yet so this is quite the messy situation.  My expectation is that Murray goes into the season as the starter but if he starts slow, there’s the chance Fleury could take the job back and run with it.

In dynasties, I love Murray because Fleury is eventually on the way out; he’s a top 5 goalies in dynasties. However, in redrafts, I think he’s a big risk because there’s a chance he loses his job all together with a poor start.  I think the best thing you can do is draft both Murray and Fleury.  You’ll get all 82 starts for the Penguins which is a massive win.  The only way that doesn’t happen is if Fleury is traded and then you backed into another starting goalie.  I’d draft Murray as a #2 goalie later on knowing he has #1 upside but could flop knowing that I have to handcuff him with Fleury.  In Fleury’s case, if things did work out where I drafted two strong goalies in the early parts, I’d gamble on Fleury as my 3rd goalie for the upside.

DEFENSEMEN

Kris Letang was my biggest hit of last season.  I had him ranked as the #3 defenseman and #35 overall player (here’s the link to my top 10 D from last year; pretty accurate if I say so myself <pats self on back> when some places, notably ESPN, had him outside of the top 100.  Similar to the year before, Letang missed double digit games but despite playing in 71, he finished as the #2 defensemen and a top 20 player overall.  He totaled 66 points, 66 PIM, 30 STP and 218 shots, all outstanding for a defenseman.  He’s 17th overall in my rankings for this season and that’s assuming he misses time.

Nobody else on the Penguins defense is worthy of being drafted in 12’ers at this point.  The main reason is that the first power play unit gets the vast majority of PP time and Letang is the only defensemen on it.  Trevor Daley was the closest with 22 points in 53 games with Pittsburgh and passable numbers elsewhere.  The problem is that his best stretch was when Letang was injured.  Therefore, don’t draft him outside of deep leagues but if (probably when) Letang goes down, grab Daley.

Justin Schultz was solid in his 18 regular season games with Pittsburgh scoring 8 points.  I don’t see the role for him to maintain that production though and he has a long history of being a trainwreck defensively.  It wouldn’t shock me if he turns out to be a scratch shortly into the season.

Olli Maatta has developed defensively but his offensive game hasn’t taken the next step.  Maatta was +27 on the season but didn’t provide much else.  He’s worth monitoring in case he makes the jump but I wouldn’t touch him outside of 16’ers or deeper for the probable +/- boost.

FORWARDS

I’ll make it simple with the top two guys.  Sidney Crosby is still very, very good.  He comes in at 3rd overall in my rankings and I don’t have any problem with him being #2.  Evgeni Malkin is also very, very good with one qualifier; it’s on a per-game basis.  He always misses time so you have to decide if you want to deal with it.  Malkin is 13th but I understand the want to simply cross him off your list because he’s missed at 13 games 4 straight seasons, including 25 last year.

Most people expected Phil Kessel to come close to first round value following the move to Pittsburgh.  The move didn’t go smoothly at all but it worked out in the end, at least from a real life perspective.  I put him at 47th overall and I’d love him at that spot because there’s upside to be better strictly in an improved PPP total.

Patric Hornqvist had a solid but unspectacular season with 22 goals, 29 assists and over 3 shots per game.  That’s a major step back from 2014-15 though with the same amount of points in 18 more games.  This can be attributed to a horrible start to the season much like the majority of his teammates.  Hornqvist had 3 goals and 4 assists in his first 26 games and after 1+1 in the next game, he went 5 more scoreless.  That kind of streak is not going to happen again since he’s a virtual lock for Crosby’s right wing.  I expect him to bounceback this season; he didn’t quite crack my top 50 but he won’t be much longer.

At this point in his career, Chris Kunitz is nowhere near what he used to be offensively.  The expectation is that he’ll be off the first power play unit which is a big blow to his value.  He had 17+23 last season and I can’t see him topping them.  Now, he was +29 and puts up solid penalty minutes on a regular basis so he’s marginal in a 12’er if you can stomach the loss of points.  Since I don’t think he’ll play with Crosby much at 37 years old, I’ll probably be staying away.

Carl Hagelin is a very tough player to gauge for this year.  On one hand, he had 10+17 in 37 games with the Penguins, amazing numbers that far outweigh any other stretch of his career.  The shot rate was very good and +18 is insane over 37 games.  On the other hand, he did all of that without power play time; even the best players in the league struggle to score that often at even strength.  I like him a lot more in deeper leagues but in 12’ers, he’s very fringe.  There’s no chance he gets power play time so you’re getting a blank there and he’s going to regress offensively, he doesn’t have the talent to be a 60 point player.  All that being said, I’d look to stream him if he goes undrafted.

There’s a good chance that Conor Sheary starts on the first line with Crosby and Hornqvist.  That screams streamer to me since we haven’t see enough from him through this point of his career to think that he’s more.

Nick Bonino is a player to watch to see how the Penguins use him.  He was outstanding in the playoffs but mediocre in the regular season with 9+20 in 63 games and a poor shot rate.  I would let him go undrafted, stream him in good spots, and pick him up when Malkin is injured.  Unsurprisingly, Bonino did his best offensively when he received second line center minutes.

TOP 5 PROSPECTS

1) Derrick Pouliot (I’m still counting him because he played only 22 games last year.  He should be up over Schultz already).

2) Daniel Sprong

3) Oskar Sundqvist

4) Tristan Jarry

5) Kasper Bjorkqvist

That’s all for now guys.  I’ll be back on Friday with a preview of the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals.  Then we’ll be moving on to the Western Conference, crazy that half the teams are done now!  As always, feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments below.  Take care!