Back on April 21st, we asked "Can Evgeni Malkin make chicken salad out of Kunitz+Fehr"? Malkin was able to return from his injury on April 16th, for Game 2 against the Rangers and played all over the place; sometimes as a center, sometimes as a winger with Sidney Crosby. After the game, Malkin made it very clear that he didn't want to play on the wing, he wanted to play center.
Since then, he's gotten his wish and been exclusively a center, mostly with Kunitz and Fehr. In the 10 games of that, it hasn't gone well:
Chris Kunitz: 10 games, 1 goal (PP), 3 assists (1 PP)
Eric Fehr: 9 games, 2 goals, 0 assists
This isn't going to cut it for playing with a scoring champion-type like Malkin. But the Penguins don't have any further option if they're going to use Malkin as a center and keep their best left winger (Carl Hagelin) and the best right winger (Phil Kessel) with their 3rd best center (Nick Bonino)..
That's not necessarily a bad thing - as we saw in the series against the Washington Capitals. The Penguins didn't get a lot of scoring from Crosby or Malkin, but the Bonino line was dominant. And Matt Cullen pitched in with 2 points in 2 wins. When the "bottom" line are producing, it doesn't matter if the talent is spread out.
But when the talent is spread, it's tougher for 87 and 71 to take over. Conor Sheary, for his part, has no goals and 2 assists in the last 7 games as well.
If the "HBK" line isn't scoring in a game, and Cullen doesn't come through, the Penguins put themselves in a hole.
Can they manage Malkin's happiness on a wing with Crosby? The two have played together before in the playoffs, notably in 2014 when Crosby's wrist was hurt and 2015 when Malkin was hurt. Neither seem to be this year, but Pittsburgh might need to combine them anyways in order to give each other enough skill.
Wilkes-Barre's great season came to an end last night, in a heart-breaking Game 7 OT loss. Our boy dps has the final recap here and did a great job all season here on Pensburgh.
What a season for WB/S, on the ice and developmentally. 9 players from their opening night lineup (Matt Murray, Bryan Rust, Scott Wilson, Oskar Sundqvist, Conor Sheary, Derrick Pouliot, David Warsofsky, Josh Archibald and Tom Sestito) would see time at the NHL at some point. A remarkable 6 of them are all on the NHL roster and probable graduates to the NHL level. And, oh yeah, their coach got called up as well and made Pittsburgh into the best team in the league since Christmas.
That's the sign of a healthy and great organization right there.
And, the future looks just as bright. The Pens signed Jake Guentzel this spring and he was WB/S's leading playoff scorer with 14 points 5g+9a) in 10 games. Daniel Sprong rejoined the Pens after his junior season ended and notched 7 points (5g+2a) in the playoff run. Youngsters Teddy Blueger and Tristan Jarry didn't shine statistically but got an important taste of professional level post-season action. And, perhaps a name to watch, Carter Rowney earned his first NHL contract and recorded 12 points (4g+8a) as an over-achieving player who has gotten better every season.
Something that kind of flew under the radar was the the Penguins first draft pick is now known, courtesy of Anaheim's elimination last week. The Pens will pick 54th overall (Anaheim traded the pick to Vancouver, who included it in the Nick Bonino trade). Pittsburgh will also have another pick somewhere in the range of 57-60, depending on the NHL playoff results.
If they don't make any trades, this will be the first time since 2012 that the Pens will have 2 picks inside the top 60 and only the third time in the last 8 drafts.