We took a look at Goaltenders and Defensemen earlier this week, so now we're moving on to finish up with the Forwards. The team had said they don't anticipate any further free agent signings as of right now, although they are still working on trying to resign their own RFAs. We could also see a trade or two, particularly a high priced blue liner, which would allow us to fill the remaining holes amongst the forward depth, however as of now the team claims to be satisfied with being able to take this lineup into the start of the season and make changes throughout the year. So it is entirely possible that what we see now is what the Pittsburgh Penguins have to work with on opening day, so let's take a look at our roster as it stands.
NHL Roster Battles
The Penguins currently have 30 Forwards under contract to work with for the 2014-15 season. As of now they have just 9 players under 1way NHL contracts, but it forms a solid foundation which they can supplement from internal depth. They've got 4 definite Top 6 forwards in Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, and Chris Kunitz. Likely they will be split into pairs to flesh out the top lines with one playmaking center and one net crashing winger for each line. They also have Pascal Dupuis, who is returning from knee surgery, who they hope to slot back in with his usual linemates up front. The final spot in the Top 6 will likely have to wait until Training Camp to see how it plays out.
They also have 4 solid Bottom 6 options with Marcel Goc, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, and Craig Adams. Goc is capable of playing down the middle or on the wing, and he could be on either the 3rd or 4th line. Downie is a wing he based on past seasons is certainly capable of handling 3rd line minutes. Comeau is also a wing, and seems to have gotten mostly 4th line minutes in recent years, although in the past he had played further up the lineup. And Adams is capable of playing any forward position, but is best suited for 4th line minutes, or even better yet watching from the press box as the 13th F.
Then we've got 4 players that are signed to 2way contracts with Zach Sill, Andrew Ebbett, Nick Drazenovic, and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond. They are most likely bound for WBS in the fall, but they all would need to be placed on waivers in order to assign them to the AHL, and they will get a chance to battle for a spot in the lineup at Camp. Sill, Ebbett, and Drazenovic are all centers who are also capable of playing wing, while PL3 plays wing as a heavyweight enforcer, although he is less than ideal at actually playing hockey. They all have some NHL experience, although Ebbett is the only one who was reasonably successful in the league.
Then we have 2 more players that are currently unsigned RFAs with Brandon Sutter and Nick Spaling. Sutter was tendered a Qualifying Offer of $2.7M, which he reportedly determined he would not sign and is looking for more in the range of $3.5M. Spaling was tendered a QO of $1.5M, and likewise he is reportedly seeking more, looking for somewhere in the $2.5M range. As of now neither has filed for arbitration, with the deadline to do so at 5pm today, but their contract talks are still ongoing. Sutter is a solid 3rd lien Center, although he has shown that he could play 2nd line in a pinch. Spaling is a decent Bottom 6 option that could play any forward position on either line.
AHL Roster Battles
We also have 2 RFAs that should they sign their QOs are set to be playing on 2way contracts with Jayson Megna and Bobby Farnham. Being that they are also young enough to remain waiver exempt could be heading back down to WBS. Megna stands the best chances of making the NHL lineup, he can play any forward position and has shown an ability to play somewhat competently anywhere from the 2nd to 4th line. Farnham is a 4th line agitator, known for playing with girt and sandpaper while drawing opponents into taking retaliatory penalties, however he's unlikely to be able to compete at the NHL level.
Then there are 11 forwards who are under contract currently playing on 2way deals while also being young and inexperienced enough to not have to clear waivers, Oskar Sundqvist, Josh Archibald, Scott Wilson, Beau Bennett, Bryan Rust, Adam Payerl, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matia Marcantuoni, Dominik Uher, Anton Zlobin, and Jean-Sebastien Dea.
Bennett is almost certainly going to be in the NHL, and he looks to be competing for a spot in the Top 6 to boot. However, he is recovering from wrist surgery and as a waiver exempt 2way player they do have the option of placing him back in WBS if they feel the need to do so. He plays wing and is capable of playing anywhere up and down the NHL lineup. Payerl is another guy to watch as he could make a push for an NHL job in Camp, he is a massively powerful forward capable of playing Center or wing, and he could be a solid addition to the 4th line, possibly even competing for 3rd line minutes. Uher is a little less likely to crack the NHL lineup, but he can play any forward position and it is possible that he could make a push for a 4th line spot in Camp. And then there is rookie Sundqvist, who is coming over from Sweden where he played mostly Bottom 6 minutes in the adult league, he could jump into our Bottom 6 as Center or wing.
Less likely to make the NHL lineup are Tom Kuhnhackl and Anton Zlobin who were both rookies last year and spent time bouncing between Wheeling and WBS. Both play wing and are decently capable offensively, but Kuhnhackl is older and larger, whereas Zlobin is more of a pure sniper. Kuhnhackl struggled last year, and if he doesn't turn it around this season will most likely not be back. Zlobin, on the other hand, got off to a slow start but really improved by the end of the year and was one of the better forwards during the playoffs.
Archibald, Wilson, and Rust will all be rookies this season, although they did get a taste of AHL action playing under ATOs at the end of the season. They are all the same age, roughly the same size, came from the NCAA, and play wing, although Wilson has been known to play Center as well. They will certainly get a chance to compete for a spot in the NHL lineup in Camp, and they're older than most of the other prospects, but chances are they need time adjusting to playing at the professional level, so expect them to be assigned to WBS.
Marcantuoni and Dea are rookies that came in from the Juniors, and both are exceptionally fast. Marcantuoni can play any forward position and has decent size, although his offensive skill is somewhat lacking compared to some of the other prospects. Dea mostly plays Center, although he is rather undersized, but he is also quite fast and is a pure goal scorer. Either of them could make a push for the NHL in the future, but I doubt they have much of a chance this year.
And then our final forwards Tom Kostopoulos and Conor Sheary are signed to AHL contracts, so barring a lights out performance that earns them an NHL deal, they will indeed be playing in WBS. TK is a veteran wing, Captain of the team, and was one of their best scorers last season, especially on the PP. Sheary is an undersized wing who was an undrafted college FA who came in at the end of the season on an ATO, and not only did he earn a spot on the roster but he was one of their top scorers in the playoffs.
We also have 8 unsigned prospects who will come in over the summer and try to earn a contract. Theodor Blueger from the 2012 Draft can play Center or wing and is expected to return for his Junior season in the NCAA. Jake Guentzel from the 2013 Draft can also play Center or wing and is expected to return for his Sophomore season in the NCAA. Both are quite talented and are expected to be able to make a push for the NHL lineup eventually, but as of now are considered long term projects.
Blaine Byron and Troy Josephs from the 2013 Draft are undersized Centers who are expected to return for their Sophomore seasons in the NCAA. As of now neither have been particularly spectacular and it remains to be seen if they will ever really develop NHL potential.
Then from this year's draft we have winger Kasperi Kapanen, he was playing in the adult league in Finland and hopes to make the NHL roster in Camp, although he plans to head back to the SM-liiga if he doesn't make the NHL. Sam Lafferty can play Center or wing, but he is a long term project that is going to play in the USHL this year and head to college in 2015-16. Winger Jaden Lindo is probably closer to being ready for the pros than some of the other prospects, but chances are he will finish out his OHL career over the next two seasons before moving on to the AHL, then try to work his way up to the NHL from there. And Anthony Angello is a Center with solid size who plans to remain in the USHL next season and head to college in 2015-16.