Even with last week's acquisition of skilled winger David Perron, the Pittsburgh Penguins still have a deficiency- they're down a true "top 6" forward. Add Perron to the mix that will feature Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist and that's only 5 names to fill 6 spots.
Which is why the refreshingly transparent Penguins general manager, Jim Rutherford, had said that he wanted to acquire a forward even before Pascal Dupuis was lost for the season with a blood clot in his lungs. Now that Perron has eaten up all the salary cap relief that placing Dupuis on the long-term injured-reserve has allowed, the Penguins will have to contend with a tight limit on the salary cap should they want to make another such trade. Which is problematic when an NHL team wants to fill an important skill position hole, since most skilled players get paid as such and have a sizable salary.
The other answer to the Penguins problems would be to look from within. Steve Downie (7 goals, 13 assists in 35 games this season) has been a pleasant surprise. Ditto Blake Comeau (11 goals, 8 assists in 32 games) before he went on the injured list with a broken bone in the wrist area. Neither of those veterans, however, are likely to be very productive players for long. They may passably play the role in spurts, but it's difficult to imagine the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup with Downie or Comeau set in stone in a scoring line role.
Which leaves the one name that Pittsburgh fans don't want to get excited about. Beau Bennett. No one wants to get excited or rely on Bennett because of his penchant for a series of injuries over the past few years, which is understandable. It gets old being Charlie Brown running to kick the football only to have Lucy pull it away.
One thing to realize though, is that Bennett has the puck skills and skating to be a difference maker. We've seen it in the few games he's played this year (2 goals, 5 assists in 11 games) and last night we got a glimpse of it again when Bennett got to play on a line with Malkin and Nick Spaling. We've seen it before in Bennett's career with Malkin at 5-on-5 with stats, as always from stats.hockeyanalysis.com:
|Season||TOI||GF20||GA20||CF %||Bennett Points||Malkin Points|
|2012-13||50:49||1.18||0.40||56.0%||0g, 1a||0g, 1a|
|2013-14||43:30||1.38||0.46||60.5%||1g, 1a||1g, 2a|
|2014-15||25:46||1.55||2.33||55.6%||1g, 0a||1g, 1a|
As you can see, the sample sizes are small throughout the seasons, but the results are encouraging. The Corsi For %'s are off the charts good in each and every year, and other than this year (and aberration that will come down with more time) the GF/20 and GA/20 show that the pucks are frequently going into the right net.
Hopefully the next thing that shoots up with more time and familiarity are the points. In some ways, skill doesn't need a lot of time. This was illustrated on Bennett's goal last night, Malkin expertly passed the puck from across his body behind the net to Bennett, who did his part by skating to the net and posting up there. There was another great chance where Bennett set Malkin up for a quality shot from in close that the goalie saved.
Hopefully there's a lot more of this to come. Bennett, if he can stay healthy, could add a huge element of skill to the Penguins top six, which they need. If it comes to Malkin playing with skill like Bennett or filler like Spaling, the choice should be clear.
Adding Bennett (better on the right side) with Malkin sets the Penguins up to use Hornqvist with Crosby, which seems like something that coach Mike Johnston favors. Then the team would need to figure how Kunitz and Perron figure in. For balance, it would seem wise to keep Perron with Crosby/Hornqvist and add a space-opener like Kunitz to the Malkin/Bennett duo. Or, if they want to over-load the bangers with Crosby, it could be Kunitz/Hornqvist in that spot and a skilled Perron/Bennett trio with Malkin.
Either way, the options look very good for the Penguins to support Evgeni Malkin with the skill of a player like Bennett moving forward.