It’s summer and we’re digging deep. Last year at about this time we looked at surprises and shortcomings from the season prior. Let’s look forward now.
With a lot of new faces, there’s certainly the hope for newcomers to exceed expectations.
-Alex Galchenyuk: has to be at the top of the list. He’s got the pedigree being a high pick of third overall back in 2012. He scored 30 goals for Montreal in 2015-16. At 25 years old, he’s at a prime age to produce a great season, especially since he’s figuring to play top-six minutes this year with the Pens, perhaps in a very offensive role on the Evgeni Malkin line. And it’s a contract year and Galchenyuk can test unrestricted free agency next summer for the first time. A lot of signs pointing towards a big year.
-Dominik Kahun: fresh off a rookie NHL season where he scored 37 points for Chicago, Kahun joins the Pens as a 24-year old getting his first taste of Eastern Conference action where his speed and skill could flourish. Kahun also has the versatility to play all over the ice, potentially at all three forward positions. He should be in the Pens’ top-nine, and with the way Mike Sullivan likes to shake up the lines, Kahun probably figures to get chances to play with Malkin and Sidney Crosby at different points in the year to see how he does and what takes on the ice. He’s not going to get the prime power play time to be a huge point producer, but he does have the potential to be a key piece of the puzzle.
-Jared McCann: His stock among fans is sky-high after turning heads by scoring 11 goals and 17 points in 32 games as a Penguin in 2018-19. He’s young at 23-years old and is a fast skater with some good hands. Can he stick with Crosby and make the most of a great opportunity?
-Matt Murray: in a sense, the young goalie with two Stanley Cup rings isn’t a surprise candidate. He’s been amazing at the top of his game. The surprise for Murray would be staying healthy. Murray has played 49, 49 and 50 games in his full-time seasons in the NHL. From December 15-end of season Murray was 25-9-5, with a .930 save percentage that ranked tied-2nd in the league. The games played were near the top of the league too. If Murray can stay healthy and put up those types of numbers over 60+ games, he’s likely in the Vezina hunt. The talent is there. But can he remain available and pile it up consistently?
-Erik Gudbranson: look, let’s state the disclaimer that Gudbranson was a perfectly functional and even solid third pairing defenseman in his third pair role in 19 games with the Pens last year, defying a lot of conventional expectations. No denying that. The ghosts of Gudbranson would be the 440 games that came before his Pittsburgh stint, where he was a disaster. And what if his partner next season is Jack Johnson or Juuso Riikola, more limited options then Gudbranson’s 2018-19 mate in Marcus Pettersson. Can Gudbranson still be solid? And come close to justifying the $4 million he’s pulling against the salary cap? Could be an uphill battle.
-Patric Hornqvist: he’s an old battle horse, but Hornqvist just looked old in 2018-19, suffering multiple concussions and getting demoted to the third line and off the top power play. Will he be on a scoring line? If not, can he find a way to produce with lesser players? That’s been a challenge for him. With Phil Kessel gone, you’d think Hornqvist as the top RH shot forward might be on the top power play again, but will he be there? Lots of questions without easy answers.
Sound off and let us know who you think will exceed expectations and which players might be bound to disappoint next season.
Which player will be the surprise performer in 2019-20?
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