clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2017-18 Pittsburgh Penguins lines outlook

Looking at the Penguins options for possible forward lines to start the season if they don’t make any trades.

Ottawa Senators v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Five Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

The dust has now started to settle on Matt Cullen’s decision - he’s going back to Minnesota and leaving Pittsburgh. This leaves the Penguins in a tough spot up the middle of the ice right now, since Carter Rowney remains the organization’s 3rd best natural center now as the month prepares to turn to September.

Obviously, that won’t be the case forever. However, coach Mike Sullivan and general manager Jim Rutherford are rightfully playing it cool.

From the PG:

“[I’m] more comfortable with that than trading for somebody where I’m not sure whether they can help us or not,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford said he spoke to coach Mike Sullivan earlier this week and Sullivan told him he “could make it work” if the Penguins open training camp with their current roster.

“The coach is working on that now, looking at what those options are,” Rutherford said.

Sullivan concurred:

Part of that, Rutherford said, was that Sullivan was already working on putting together some internal options.

Sullivan crossed at least one player off the list for the start of the season.

Jake Guentzel is a center by trade,” Sullivan said. “He’s a guy who can play that position. Is that something that we’d like to go to right away? Probably not. But it is an option.”


“We have some young players who are in the system that potentially have the ability to grow into it,” Sullivan said. “We do have options on our roster. We have options in our organization. We’ll see where it goes. I do think we’re a very competitive team as we stand.

“Certainly I know that Jim has a priority to fill that spot for us. It may take a little while. For me it’s about getting the right guy. I think Jim feels the same way. I think Jim has a knack for maintaining an element of patience when it’s necessary. We’ll see how it goes. I know we have a competitive group with what we have.”

Why aren’t they panicking that Carter Rowney remains the best depth center?

Well, as Elliotte Friedman likes to say- when an NHL team is in trouble the other teams throw them an anchor, not a life-line. A desperate team is a vulnerable one. So it makes no sense to publicly admit the Penguins are seeking a trade RIGHT NOW. That’s how they will get ripped off by a team with more leverage.

However, that doesn’t mean the problem isn’t acknowledged. Rutherford’s stated many times his goal is to trade for a center when the time is right and he feels he can get a good player for a fair price. We’ve all got an 82-game season and many months until the 2018 trading deadline.

In short, the Pens can still afford to be patient, though with some teams in a salary cap crunch, it’s not an impossibility to imagine that they could make a trade prior to the start of the regular season.

But if isn’t possible, what are some of the options to build a lineup with only internal players? Let’s take a look!

Pure centers

OK, so what would a lineup look like if they didn’t convert any wingers and just went straight centers?

Top 6: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Conor Sheary, Jake Guentzel, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist

3rd line: Carl Hagelin - Carter Rowney - Bryan Rust

4th line options: Tom Kuhnhackl/ Scott Wilson - J-S Dea/Teddy Blueger - Ryan Reaves/ Josh Archibald

This doesn’t look as appealing and is going to rely a lot on Rowney (27 career NHL games) and Dea (1) and Blueger (0). Probably not in the cards and doesn’t really address the main problem as the roster currently stands: Pittsburgh just doesn’t have enough NHL caliber centers in the organization. Now onto trying to move some pieces around.

However, Jason Mackey thinks Rowney as 3C could be necessary if no trade is made, so this might be the band-aid that the team ends up going with if they have to. However, thinking about other options, we’ll look at others.


Mr. Wilson’s 3rd line

One candidate to make a jump to center might just be Scott Wilson. As mentioned above, he’s played in the middle before in lower levels of hockey. On paper, one would think he’s got all the skills and tools (skating, a sneaky playmaking ability, defensive responsibility) to be a decent lower line center, he just doesn’t have the experience or spent any appreciable time training such a position.

Top 6: Crosby, Malkin, Sheary, Guentzel, Kessel, Hornqvist

3rd line: Hagelin - Wilson - Rust

4th line options: Kuhnhackl, Rowney, Reaves, Archibald

Split up the top-6 however it needs to be, but this lineup gives great balance, punch and depth. Hagelin+Rust add a ton of speed to a 3rd line that could help bail Wilson and the defense out if they’re in a pinch in the defensive zone.


Guentzel option

The Pens decision makers repeat they don’t want to separate Crosby and Guentzel (nor should they want to given the production both had together in the playoffs), but how might it look if they need to?

Top 6: Sheary-Crosby-Hornqvist


3rd line: Hagelin - Guentzel - Rust

4th line options: Kuhnhackl, Rowney, Reaves, Archibald

This is a more balanced team, but arguably has a weaker 1st and 2nd line to split Guentzel away to play with a guy who couldn’t score goals last year (Hagelin) and one who doesn’t have great playmaking and assist ability in Rust. The HBK magic of 2016 still runs too deep for some to think that a dangerous 3rd line is necessary or even preferable. Surrounding 87 and 71 with the best players possible will make for the best results, especially in the regular season where loading up on skill will overwhelm the more mediocre opponents. No need to hurt everyone with an unnecessary spread of talent.


As a word of reminder, lines aren’t set in stone and Sullivan has been very flexible and fluid in his usage of players, sometimes by necessity with injuries, but often for strategic reasons. Just think of the many players who got an extended chance to play on Crosby’s line last year (Sheary, Guentzel, Rust, Hornqvist). Malkin even more so with a myriad of linemates getting an opportunity to play.

It’s easy to imagine this could be how the center rotation goes, and worth remembering as well that with north of $3 million in cap space, a reinforcement of a traded player will be on the way at some point and the long nightmare will be over.


Best bet above?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    No changes: Rowney / minor leaguer
    (590 votes)
  • 62%
    Try Scott Wilson
    (1427 votes)
  • 11%
    Weaken the top-6 with Guentzel as 3C
    (253 votes)
2270 votes total Vote Now