It’s nice to have a bunch of superstars and a lot of luck on your side. The Penguins became the first team in almost two decades to win back to back Stanley Cups. On top of their usual fantasy studs, they had a few wingers emerge that look at the verge of becoming elite fantasy assets. Not much has changed on the whole but hey, why change a team that keeps winning? Let’s take a look at the Penguins’ roster and see what they’re working with for fantasy hockey:
Elite Talents – While the metaphorical torch of best player in the game is about to be passed, it’s still in Sidney Crosby‘s possession. Crosby had one of his best seasons to date scoring 44 goals and 45 assists in 75 games. The shot rate jumped quite a bit as well and he continued his streak of posting great plus-minuses. The penalty minutes fell off but that could easily come back if he gets called for his occasional spears. Crosby is the #2 overall fantasy player for this coming season.
On a per-game basis, Evgeni Malkin was the best player in fantasy hockey last season. He was a beast in all six categories: 33 goals, 39 assists, +18. 77 PIM, 23 STP and 191 SOG in only 62 games. That brings us back to the usual issue: durability. Only once in the past eight seasons has Malkin missed less than 13 games. In my early top 50, I had Malkin 6th overall but when I update, he’ll be lower. He’s simply too big of a risk to use a first round pick on. Second rounder, 100%, but I don’t want my first rounder missing 20+ games which sadly is Geno’s norm.
Phil Kessel had an improved second season in Pittsburgh scoring 23 goals and 47 assists. His main contribution came on the power play where he produced 30 of his 70 points. The one concern is that his shot rate fell quite a bit again to below 3 per game. Kessel remains a top 50 player mostly because of his safety; he hasn’t missed a game in the past seven seasons.
I debated for a while whether or not Jake Guentzel belongs in the elite category. On one hand, he had 16+17 in 40 games last season and was even better in the playoffs. On the other hand, Guentzel had only 10 PIM and was right at 2 shots per game. There isn’t any margin for error if he’s going to be considered an elite talent. That said, the upside is through the roof playing with Crosby. I’m going to have a long debate over whether or not he ends up cracking my top 50 overall but it’s close.
Must Draft – While Conor Sheary had his breakout last season, the reason he doesn’t fall into the elite tier was his poor playoffs. The good news for Sheary is that there aren’t any real options outside of Bryan Rust to move into the top six. Sheary was excellent on Crosby’s wing last season scoring 53 points (23+30) in 61 games. That was with only 5 PPP so there’s some upside if the second unit for the Pens improves (unlikely given how much PP1 plays). I’ll have Sheary in my top 100 but he’s a tier behind Guentzel at this point.
Patric Hornqvist is a great fit for most rosters towards the middle of your roster. He’s been a double digit plus player every year in Pittsburgh, he’s good for at least 20 goals and solid power play stats. Add in an elite shot rate and you get a player who helps you tremendously. Just don’t take him if you have a few players of the Evander Kane type, then you’ll be short on assists.
Streamers – I’d split streamers into my usual two categories but considering there are only two forwards worth mentioning as streamers, that seemed futile. The streamer with upside is the aforementioned Rust. Rust was solid last season with 15+13 in 57 games. There are a few problems though. One, he had zero power play points and while he should be on the second unit, this also caps his ceiling. Two, he looks stuck on the third line barring injury which is a drastic drop in quality of linemate. Third, the shot rate is below two per game. Four, he’s not giving us PIM. Five, there is no five. I think Rust will have streaks of fantasy relevance (hot schmotato!) but don’t count on more.
Carl Hagelin is basically Rust with zero upside. He will get zero power play time and is stuck on the third line with Rust. I’d rather go elsewhere in all league formats.
Elite Talents – Surprise, Kris Letang missed half the season. Surprise again, he was amazing in the 41 games he played. Letang is in the same category as Malkin except that he tends to miss even more time when he’s out. Considering that he had neck surgery that could cause him to miss the beginning of the season, I’m extremely pessimistic on Letang, this coming from a guy who ranked him super aggressively the past two seasons. There’s just far too much risk to justify even a top 100 pick, let along higher. That said, if you can get him past that point so you’re not counting on him to play 65+ games, Letang can provide great value. On a per-game basis, he’s as good as anyone on the blue line.
Justin Schultz‘ emergence was a huge part of the Penguins success last season. Schultz stepped up in the absence of Letang and was terrific, totaling 12 goals and 39 assists and a +27 rating. Add in solid PIM and an average shot rate for a defenseman and we had a #1 fantasy defenseman. The one downside is that when Letang is healthy, his power play time and therefore assists are going to drop. The upside is that Letang is a virtual lock to miss time. Don’t expect Schultz to repeat last year’s numbers across the board but he should be a #2 defenseman with upside.
GOALIES – There is no debate anymore whether or not Matt Murray is the #1 goalie in Pittsburgh. His numbers were terrific last season with a 2.41 GAA, .923 sv% and 32 wins in 49 starts. There’s a legitimate chance that Murray is the #1 fantasy goalie at the end of the season. While I generally wait on goalies, he’s a guy who appeals to me in the back half of the second round. He’s my #2 overall goalie behind Holtby.
His backup is now Antti Niemi who comes to Pittsburgh after two dreadful seasons in Dallas. Niemi was never incredible but he should be a great backup goalie now that he’s not playing behind the dreadful Stars defense. He’ll be an elite streaming option every time he gets the nod.
HITS / BLOCKS / FACEOFF LEAGUES
Hornqvist gets a massive boost since he piles up the hits and is great at blocks for a forward. Malkin drops a bit further down since he rarely hits and is poor at the dot. I’m more likely to gamble on Letang in these formats since he’s outstanding in both categories. For deep leagues, Ian Cole becomes an outstanding option at the bottom of your roster for PIM, +/-, hits and blocks.
Murray moves to my #1 overall goalie given that he’s only 23 years old. Otherwise, I don’t change much. I give Schultz and Guentzel a slight boost up but nothing drastic since a lot of their future value depends on how well Crosby, Malkin, etc. age. These guys are excellent secondary pieces but not good enough to be counted on to increase their production based on their own abilities.
Blue Chip – The prospect pool is very barren for the Penguins after some recent graduates but the one guy who really stands out is Daniel Sprong. The 20 year old has the chance to be an offensively-dominate player in the NHL. Sprong had 59 points in 31 games last season in the QMJHL. He’ll start this season in Scranton but it wouldn’t shock me if he forces his way on the Penguins roster by the end of the year. Either way, with Hornqvist a UFA after this coming season, a spot in the top six should open up for Sprong. Given that he has a great chance to play with Crosby or Malkin in the future, I love Sprong in dynasties. He’s a better prospect than Guentzel or Sheary ever were.
Tristan Jarry took a major step forward last season in Scranton posting a 2.15/.925. The former second round pick will be Scranton’s goalie again and should be in the NHL sooner than later, whether that’s in Pittsburgh as Murray’s backup after this season or elsewhere if he’s used as a trade chip.
High Upside, Low Floor – Zach Aston-Reese had an outstanding college career at Northeastern. Last season, his stat line was absolutely ridiculous: 31+32 in 38 games with a whopping 72 PIM. The 23 year old signed with the Pens and will also be in the AHL this year. The Pens have had other college kids thrive in their organization and it wouldn’t shock me if ZAR is next on the list. He’s a risky selection but the upside is through the roof.
That’s all for now guys. This will be my last team preview for the week; the Blue Jackets will be next on Monday. Tomorrow, a new podcast with Reid will be posted and my updated Top 50 will finally be out on Friday. As always, feel free to ask any questions and leave any comments below. Thanks for reading, take care!