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The five Penguins players I am most curious about this season

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From new players to returning players.

NHL: DEC 04 Blues at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Even though we still are not sure what division they will be in or what the season will actually look like, the start of the Pittsburgh Penguins season is apparently just around the corner.

With that in mind, I wanted to take a quick look at five Penguins players that have me curious for this season.

Not the best players.

Not the most impactful players.

Just players that I want to see over a full season and what they are capable of.

Let’s get to the list.

Kasperi Kapanen

This is an obvious one to me because, well, I want to see if he ends up being worth the price they paid.

If the Penguins end up being as good as they hope they can be — and as good as they should be — that first-round pick will not be that big of a deal. But they still probably paid a steep price for Kapanen given the player market around the league this offseason, and they need him to make an impact.

I think he can.

He is obviously a very talented player and has shown flashes of being a potential top-six players over his first couple of years in the league. What kind of fit will he be? Who will he play with? Will he reach the ceiling the Penguins initially had for him when they drafted him a few years ago, and the ceiling the Maple Leafs hoped for the past couple of years?

He checks a lot of the boxes for what the Penguins need in a new forward (young, fast, skilled, top-six potential) but we have to actually see it happen.

John Marino

He was the single biggest surprise on the 2019-20 team, pretty much emerging out of nowhere to become a potential cornerstone player.

His rookie season went better than anybody could have ever anticipated, and he is already one of the team’s most effective defenders.

Will that progression continue in year two, or is there a regression waiting to set in? My initial instinct here is to say that the progression will continue, because it’s not like his success as a rookie was driven by good luck or protected usage. The Penguins pretty much put him right into the deep end of the pool and it was his defensive impact that stood out the most.

Bryan Rust

This is about wanting to see if he can repeat — or even come close to repeating — his breakout performance from a year ago.

Rust is fascinating because if you go back to the start of the 2018-19 season he was mired in a horrible goal-scoring slump that saw him score just one goal in his first 29 games and face intense criticism for not playing up to his new contract.

Since then?

He has scored 44 goals in 98 games. That is 36-goal pace over 82 games.

It is expecting too much to think he is just going to suddenly be a 35-goal player, but if he can settle in as a 25-goal player with his versatility, defense, and penalty killing ability that would make him an absolute steal on his current contract.

Mike Matheson

Honestly, I am very intrigued about this addition. The contract is wild. Why in the world did the Florida Panthers think they had to sign him to that sort of contract? Only the absolute best of the best players should be getting eight year contracts, and even then depending on their age it can be a risk.

But here we are, and now that he is a Penguin he is under contract longer than any player currently on the roster.

He has flaws. But he also has talent. A lot of it. The intrigue here is whether or not that talent can translate into something impactful in a different situation, on a different team, with better talent around him. I am not expecting miracles here. I do not buy into the idea that the Penguins can just magically take any reclamation project on defense and immediately turn them into a star. At least not anymore. But I still think there is a lot of reason to be curious about what Matheson can do on this team. He is a better fit skill wise than Jack Johnson was, and I just think he brings another dimension to the blue line that maybe was not there a year ago.

Jared McCann

This is an important one just to see which version of Jared McCann we get.

Will it be the one we saw in the first part of the 2019-20 season that scored goals and looked like a useful player? Or will it be the player that went ice cold in the second half of the season and played his way out of the lineup in the playoffs?

The Penguins really need him to help form a productive third line, and if he can help do that it would be a game-changer for their entire season.