Editor's Note: Wamsley from Fantasysensehockey.net was kinda enough to give a massive fantasy preview for the Pens. With our own fantasy drafts coming up soon, the timing couldn't have been better. Many thanks.
Can the Penguins repeat? Or will the salary cap cost them a prolonged Cup run? Even though the Pens depth will be challenged by the departure of 4 starters from the Championship team, they are well positioned to replace them with cheap youngsters.
From a fantasy standpoint they will continue to get a ton of attention as owners continually search for a forward to draft off the greatness of Crosby and Malkin. Surely there is somebody in the system that can replicate the greatness of Rob Brown's balding mullet and pot 49 goals. Or maybe a 28-year old nobody to fill Warren Young's role? The search continues....
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It is hard to assess Dan Bylsma's future impact when he has such a limited track record. He did manage in his one season of AHL experience to post a top 5 offensive and defensive performance, but Wilkes Barre had similar success under Todd Richards. When you have the offensive horses like Malkin, Crosby and Gonchar, you let them run free. My interest is in how he insulates Marc Andre Fleury, judging from the stretch run and last year's playoffs, Fleury should remain productive.
There is much debate about who the best player in the NHL is, and it extends to Pittsburgh. After Malkin's breakout season in 2009 people have begun to question if it is Sidney Crosby. It is a legit fantasy argument, but I think when Mike Babcock decided to match Zetterberg and Lidstrom against Crosby in the Finals, he answered the real life debate. When a coach continually matches his shutdown defenders against one individual, the point becomes clear. As for fantasy, the numbers are close. Look at Crosby's pace projected out to 82 instead of 77.
Their production is very similar, with an edge to Malkin. The biggest knock on Crosby is his durability; he has yet to complete a full schedule. With Crosby just reaching the age of 22, the question is, has he had his breakout season yet? I say no, and if he answers the durability concerns, I expect a monster season from Crosby in 2010.
Evgeni Malkin's monster 2009 propelled him into the best player debate with Ovechkin and Crosby. In 2009 he waged a furious battle with Ovechkin for the top rotisserie player in the NHL. After a 3-month stint in 2nd Malkin pulled ahead in February, only to see Ovechkin rebound in March to claim the number one spot. He is often criticized for not appearing engaged, but it is because his effortless stride. His game is very reminiscent of number 66 and he remains a highlight waiting to happen. He occupies the first tier of superstars with Crosby and Ovechkin a large margin ahead of the rest of the field. Another monster year awaits.
It is easy to overlook the impact that a puck rushing defenseman has on an offense. While all the attention is usually heaped on goaltenders and goal scorers, an offense is easily stifled without an effective transition game. If there is nobody to feed your forwards in stride they cannot attack the blue line at full speed. An elite quarterback can slice a defense to shreds. Lost in all the hype of the Penguins resurgence was the impact of Sergei Gonchar's return. Bylsma became the focal point for the turnaround, but his hiring came only 5 games before Gonchar returned. The Pens record with him in the lineup, 17-4-4. Gonchar turns 36 during the 2010 season, after witnessing the success of Lidstrom and Zubov at 35+ and the elite talent surrounding him, I expect Gonchar to continue to post 50-60+ points into his late 30s.
Marc-Andre Fleury is case study 101 as to why you don't give up on 21-year old goaltenders. Four seasons ago the media piled on Fleury labeling him a bust when in reality he was a kid struggling to adjust to a new league on a terrible team. Where was the comparable that these geniuses were using to show a young goaltender succeeding on a 29th place team? Ultimately, Fleury's numbers improved as his team improved and he matured. Shocking!! Instead of relying on his reflexes to make up for the speed of the NHL, Fleury now anticipates situations, he tracks the puck consistently and his gap control is proactive, not reactive. He now uses his superior reflexes to accentuate his technique, not make up for his shortcomings (see the last 5 seconds of the 2009 season for proof). The challenge in 2010 is battling complacency and a revamped defensive core. With the Pens maintaining their contender status, Fleury is a great fantasy investment, but he still has some work to do to ascend to the top tier of NHL netminders.
With the absence of Gonchar and Whitney early in the season, Kris Letang gained some early momentum. When Whitney was dealt at the deadline Letang took advantage of his extra responsibility and broke out in 2009. After being scratched in 3 of his first 4 games under Dan Bylsma, Letang responded with 27 points over his final 44 games through the playoffs (a 50 pt pace). Letang possesses the offensive weapons to succeed; he is a great puck mover, has great hands and possesses a heavy shot. When you have PP opportunities with players the caliber of Crosby, Malkin and Gonchar, monster fantasy production awaits.
Jordan Staal continues to show glimpses of his potential and his two Stanley Cup beauties brought back memories of a young John Leclair in 1993. At only 21, Staal is entering the 2010 season at the same age as Eric Staal when he exploded to his 100 pt season. He continually excites with his ability to physically dominate shifts and because of Crosby and Malkin has been unfairly labeled as a checking center, undermining his immense potential. With 17 points over his final 20 games, Staal is teasing fantasy owners. He is too good to settle into a checking role and as his ice time and PP opportunities increase, so will his production. I will be shocked if he doesn't make the leap during the next calendar year.
Alex Goligoski was thrown into the fire in the first half of the season when the Pens blue line was decimated by injuries. He did a solid job of bridging the gap as he produced at close to a 40 pt pace, he managed to finish 3rd in rookie scoring among defensemen despite playing half of the season in the AHL. With the Pens pressed against the cap and the departure of Gill, Boucher and Scuderi, Goligoski has an opportunity to quarterback the Pens second power play unit. He is a strong puck mover and has an innate ability to get pucks to the net, he has great hockey sense and with his first instinct being the pursuit of offense he is a perfect fit for the explosive Penguins. Expect Goligoski to duplicate his success of last season.
Chris Kunitz won the lottery when the Pens acquired him and placed him alongside Sid the Kid. After meandering along at a 46 pt pace with the Ducks, Kunitz produced 18 points in 20 games with the Pens. Is it to easy to predict a huge season from him with a full season of drafting off the greatness of Crosby? Could we have our Rob Brown? You can talk yourself out of it by questioning his playoff production (14 pts in 23 games), but the fantasy season is not played in the playoffs. The post season is a time where the space is tightened and you play teams nightly who have scouted you so heavily, they know what brand of toilet paper you use. Kunitz has the forechecking tenacity to match Crosby and with it create turnover opportunities. With his anticipation, speed and booming shot, all the ingredients exist for a big year. If his bio picture shows a receding hairline, jump all over him.
Bill Guerin was the second recipient of the Golden ticket, but his rebirth has been overstated. Playing on one of the worst teams in the league, the Islanders, Guerin was on pace for a 48 pt season. Playing with Crosby down the stretch he managed to project out to 58 pts. It is simplistic to think he can draft his way to a big season, but the simple fact is....Bill Guerin is OLD. Even during his prime he only managed to average a point per game once. Ignore the Crosby effect and pass; Guerin will struggle to produce relevant fantasy numbers with a giant fork sticking out of his back.
Although the Pens don't possess the elite level prospects that brought them to a Stanley Cup championship, they do have some talented forwards in the pipeline. With three talented pivots at the NHL level, if any of these prospects can cultivate some chemistry with Malkin, Crosby or Staal they can make a fantasy impact.
Pittsburgh has high hopes for the 20-year old Eric Tangradi. If he can continue to develop, the Whitney deal will look even better. Tangradi's production has improved each of his 3 seasons in the OHL, culminating in 88 points in 55 games for the Belleville Bulls in 2009. Tangradi already possesses an NHL frame (6'4", 220 lbs), and when coupled with his toughness, vision and playmaking abilities Pens fans may have their new version of Kevin Stevens, now if only he can avoid the crack.
Boom or Bust? Luca Caputi has an excellent package of offensive skills to go with his persistent nature (as witnessed by his 107 point season in his final season in the OHL). Caputi made a strong transition to the AHL where he produced 45 points in 66 games, but his debut was tarnished by a demotion to the ECHL. After violating team rules, the Pens trying to avoid potential future problems demoted Caputi to the Wheeling Nailers. Caputi's path to the NHL will likely not involve an apprenticeship on the 3rd line, if he does make it, it will be in a scoring role.
Casey Pierro-Zabotel is a large body with great scoring abilities. He is a pure finisher who followed up a monster career in the BCHL with an adjustment season in Vancouver, followed by another 100+ campaign in the WHL. He is willing to take some punishment in front of the net and he is very much an opportunist. His skating needs improvement and like the majority of gifted scorers needs to shore up his defensive deficiencies, but he is a solid keeper league gamble.
Keven Veilleux is a scouts dream. A mix of size, speed, and skill who when engages can be a dominant force. Although listed as a center, Veilleux is capable of playing all three forward positions, which is essential with the strength up the middle in Steel town. After joining Rimouski via trade, Veilleux produced 22 points in 19 games. He continued that production in 2009 as he racked up 48 points in 29 games before a shoulder injury brought an abrupt halt to his season. Another young forward auditioning for the sidekick role.
Dustin Jeffrey is a hard nosed, offensively minded forward. He is the Rocco Siffredi of power forwards, as he does his greatest damage in the dirty areas. Jeffrey is most comfortable in front of the net and along the boards and continually produces because of his tremendous hockey sense. He lacks natural talent, and if Jeffrey is not the hardest working player on the ice he is ineffective, with an advanced defensive awareness he could be pigeon holed on the 3rd line, but his Holmstrom like skill set could make him a fantasy sleeper.