Welcome to PensBurgh’s official Monday Mailbag, where weekly questions posed by Pittsburgh’s fanbase and community about the Penguins, the NHL, or literally anything else y’all fancy get answered to the best of the ability of yours truly, one of the site’s most fun and loveliest editors, Kaitlyn Dividock (@kaitdivi).
Throughout the week, don’t be shy about throwing my way your burning questions, hottest takes, or most interesting debate topics – NHL-related or otherwise – here in the comments, on Twitter @Pensburgh using #PensburghMailbag, or on the site’s Facebook page. There’s a solid chance I’ll answer just about anything, just make sure it’s appropriate and abides by our community guidelines.
Without further ado, let’s get cracking on this week’s mailbag:
Who scores more points this season, Jake Guentzel or Conor Sheary?
Though both of these young guys will see themselves lining up on each side of Sidney Crosby on the first line, I think Guentzel’s going to come out on top over not only Sheary, but a lot of the forwards on this talented offense when it comes to total points accrued. He made it clear he’d be a force to reckon with just last year in his first ever NHL appearance, where he scored two goals on the first two shots he took.
He ended the regular season with 33 points in 40 games (16 of them goals), and in the playoffs, showcased his ability to be clutch with an OT-winner against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round — the same game he also conveniently had a hat trick in. Guentzel also notched a goal with under four minutes to go in the third period of a tied Stanley Cup Final game. The kid is special, thrives in crucial moments, and at just 22-years-old, has a sensational future in the NHL.
Sheary did have the edge on goals and assists last season, but he played 21 more games than Guentzel. He’s also been oddly flat after having a really strong first appearance in the 2015-16 regular season and 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. So much so that he was dropped from the Crosby line in Pittsburgh’s 2017 playoff effort. To be fair, an injury hindered him, and his forechecking ability was definitely missed, but his impact as a player wasn’t as dominant as what Guentzel brought, and will continue to bring, to the table.
What or who should the Penguins give up in a trade for a third-line center?
GM Jim Rutherford has made it very clear that he’s comfortable with waiting for the right opportunity to present itself when it comes to trade offers for a set third-line center. This no-rush mentality means we probably won’t see any movements made at the start of the season, and guys like Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney will bounce back-and-forth from 3C to 4C depending on the individual success or failures the both of them showcase in their starts. However, this also means that Rutherford will inevitably, in the weirdly successful way things all seem to work out for him, find someone to properly fill the role around the midway point of the season. The question is, what will Pittsburgh have to give up?
Rutherford needs to aim for a guy that’ll only have a cap hit of around $2-3 million. It also means that a strong offer needs to be made if he wants to seem serious in signing someone worthy of this Penguins team. If not, you can simply forget adequately replacing Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen. That’s where the Riley Sheahan trade rumors come in.
Derrick Pouliot is my guess. He’s an expendable defenseman that has seven better players listed in front of him on the depth chart. Detroit could benefit from his youthfulness just as much as they could benefit from what position he plays. The Red Wings have enough forwards that play similarly to Sheahan, but are lacking on the defensive side of things. A few draft picks may be included as well, as Pittsburgh is notorious for giving them up when another Stanley Cup is within reach.
True or False: Phil Kessel scores 25+ goals this season?
Yikes, this is a tough one. Last season, Kessel had just short of that with 23 goals (plus a career-high 47 assists, which everyone seems to forget about). Whenever he was in Toronto, he basically carried his team on his back like a dead body because he was the Maples Leafs’ only superstar at the time, doing just about everything while also scoring 30 goals each season. He didn’t have support, he didn’t have other superstars to lean on, but he took that horrible situation and used it as his driving force.
Now, things are a lot different. He has Crosby, Malkin, and Guentzel — all of whom have the talent to score more than 30 goals in a single season. He doesn’t have the pressure to make sure he scores a ton, and it showed with how many assists he had last year.
So to answer your question, I wouldn’t be surprised if he scores more than 25 goals this season, mainly because of the loss of Bonino and Cullen and the definite goals that left with them, but it won’t be the end of the world if he doesn’t if, and only if, he continues to fill the set-up man role and keep his consistency in tallying helpers.
With the exception of injuries, what could we see in regard to lineup changes between Game 1 and Game 82?
Simply put, you’re going to see Zach Aston-Reese and Daniel Sprong in the lineup eventually. I know you mentioned how good health is a factor, and it will be, but if you were to cut that tiny detail out, those two guys have the highest chance getting ice time in the NHL. They’re really, really, really good.
If anything, 82 games is a lot, and it’s unlikely that all the day-one starters on the Penguins will play every single game. Call ups will happen, even if it’s just to rest or rotate some of Pittsburgh’s best guys. ZAR and Sprong are wingers, so if veterans Carl Hagelin or Patric Hornqvist (who is still suffering from a hand injury) need a break or can’t go a handful times, those two will get the call. Same thing goes for Bryan Rust, who’s still young, but has had injuries in the past that may flare up.
On the other side of things, keep an eye out for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton centers like Teddy Blueger and Adam Johnson, who both had solid training camps and preseason showings, but were cut and sent down to make some noise in the AHL. If Rowney or McKegg can’t get it done, there’s a strong chance you’ll see them back in Pittsburgh as well.