FanPost

Do the Penguins Have an Elite Forward Corps?

Hooks's post, Are the Penguins' Wingers better than they get credit for? as usual, got me to cogitating.  The Penguins' weakness is generally agreed to be its lack of "scoring wingers," but is that a fair criticism?  Or, are expectations too high?  Let's see how the Penguins forward corps stacks up vs. the elite of the NHL...

Apparently, the folks at leafsnation.com were interested in the same issue (see article there which asks, What kind of production should we expect from a typical "1st LIne" forward?)  With 30 NHL teams and 3 forwards per line, that question became, how many points does it take to get a forward into the top 90 in scoring:

Fifty points was enough to get a player into the top-90 in scoring by NHL forwards – in other words, if a player recorded 50 points, he is definitively a first-line forward offensively. Fully half of those players scored between 50-60 points, so while a 50 point player is a below-average first-line scorer, he’s really only ten points back from being an average first-line scorer.

How about "2nd Line" forwards?

Thirty-four points was the cut-off for the top-180 in scoring for NHL forwards in 2010-11. Again, the meaning here is that the offensive range for a typical second-line player in the NHL is between 34 and 49 points.

And how does this play out in reality?
Taking a look at the "Final Four" from last season:

  • Boston: Four first-liners (Lucic, Krejci, Bergeron, Horton), three second-liners (Recchi, Marchand, Ryder)
  • Vancouver: Three first-liners (Sedin, Sedin, Kesler), three second-liners (Samuelsson, Burrows, Raymond)
  • Tampa Bay: Four first-liners (St. Louis, Stamkos, Lecavalier, Purcell), two second-liners (Gagne, Malone)
  • San Jose: Six first-liners (Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski, Heatley, Clowe, Couture), one second-liner (Seto)

How do the Penguins stack up?

Because the data used in this article is straight points scored, and because many players have their point production adversely impacted by injuries in one particular season, I looked at 3-year averages.

Player              Avg GP    Avg Pts
1.  Crosby          66            93
2.  Malkin           64            76
3.  Neal              78            46
4.  Kunitz            66           44
5.  Staal             69            43
6.  Sullivan         56            35
7.  TK                 70            35
8.  Dupuis          78             34
9.  Cooke           74             30
10.  Jeffrey       nmf           nmf
11.  Letestu      nmf           nmf

We only have one partial year's worth of data on Jeffrey (25 GP, 12 pts) and Letestu (64 GP, 27 pts). 
If Jeffrey played a full season (80 games) at about 90% of last year's "pace" he'd be in the low to mid-30s. 
Letestu projects out in the same range. 
Close, but neither can be considered top-sixers at this time.

Results:

  • Pittsburgh: Two first-liners (Crosby, Malkin), six second-liners (Neal, Kunitz, Staal, Sullivan, TK, Dupuis)

That's straight by the numbers, however, two things stand out to me:
1)  the importance of staying healthy, and
2)  the importance of younger players taking a step forward this year.

James Neal, for example, averaged 50 points his first two years in Dallas. 
He had some well-documented difficulties scoring during his time in Pittsburgh, although its reasonable to attribute that to a host of extenuating circumstances. 
If he is able to progress, and/or if the Penguins F corps can stay pretty healthy, its easy to envision him being back in the 50+ range.

Jordan Staal and Chris Kunitz, if they can stay healthy, should also rather easily make the 50+ club. 

That would give the Penguins 5 and 3-->>five 1st-liners and three 2nd-liners. 
As good as--or better than--any team in the NHL.

I have to admit that this surprised me somewhat.  As the leafsnation article points out:

Fans and columnists alike tend to overestimate the amount of high-end offensive players a team needs to win, and consequently undersell the players they have.

Last year, the Penguins were 12th in the NHL in scoring.
And that was with each of Crosby, Malkin, and Staal missing fully HALF the season. 
This year, look for the Penguins to move back into the Top 5 in the NHL in scoring.

Bottom line:  Ray Shero & Co. appear to have assembled an elite level forward corps for the 2011-2012 season.

The content expressed in fanposts does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff here at Pensburgh.com. FanPosts are opinions expressed by fans of various teams throughout the league but may be more Pittsburgh-centric for obvious reasons.

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