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Who are the Pens’ targets for regression in 2021-22?

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What could come back to earth for the Penguins next season?

New York Islanders v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game One Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Yesterday we looked back at the regression targets and results from last season. Now it’s time to turn the page and switch into into next season.

#1 Kasperi Kapanen in year two

Kasperi Kapanen burst onto the scene in Pittsburgh. Even though he was brought in with the intentions to play with Sidney Crosby, he found a better fit on a line with Evgeni Malkin, which is really just as well. Kapanen scored 30 points in 40 games with the Pens, exceeded many expectations and rocked it. But there are some cracks in the foundation, as our main man Geoff from The Pensblog laid out recently in a series of tweets:

To add onto that, in addition to exceeding his expected goals, though Kapanen “only” scored 11 goals in 40 games with Pittsburgh, he shot 16.2% in all situations. He was only a 10.2% shooter in his first 202 games in Toronto.

Kapanen was on a pace for about 60 points in a normal, full, 82 game season. That’s a ton of points. You gotta take the under on a 60 point season total for Kapanen next year. He doesn’t play the power play time, and Mike Sullivan only played him a total of 15:32 on average per game. That’s not a lot of ice time, and Kapanen also did miss 16/56 games in 2020-21 out of immigration and injury issues, and he hasn’t been an ironman in his career.

Kasperi Kapanen will bring speed, energy and his offensive instincts, but based on his first season in Pittsburgh, it looks likely the regression monster is coming for him in 2021-22. (Despite that, and unlike Geoff, Kapanen is still an easy choice for the team to protect in expansion, IMO. You can see him over-performing expectations with his production in 2020-21 — which he did — and still be a valuable and useful player...Which he will be, even if he regresses a bit from last season).

#2 The Marcus Pettersson and John Marino conundrum

In 2019-20, both Marcus Pettersson (then 23) and John Marino (then 22 and as a rookie) both looked extremely promising. By the end of 2020-21, in the playoffs Marino played 17 minutes per game, and Pettersson was just north of 13 — both barely relegated to the fringes of the lineup and surpassed somewhat surprisingly by Mike Matheson and Cody Ceci.

Assuming both Pettersson and Marino are back for 2021-22, they should be more relied on than they were last season. For Marino, that’s of little doubt. For Pettersson with expansion and trade whispers, perhaps that’s less likely. But both are signed and could be poised to be key parts.

Marino saw his goal and assist total both halved from his rookie campaign (from six to three and 20 to 10, respectively). His possession numbers also cratered. Pettersson was on a different plane in that his metrics were strong, but either his confidence or certainly the coaches confidence in him fell as the season went along.

Both are still young enough to where they should be able to work their way up the ranks a bit from where their year ended. For Marino there’s more a projection of “regression” in terms of stating that he simply needs to play better next season.

#3 What does Jeff Carter have left for an encore?

After coming over in a trade, Jeff Carter scored 13 goals in 20 total games with the Penguins. He’s scored on 24% of his shots. Now, Carter still has hands, even at age 36, only two players in the whole NHL this year scored on even 21%+ of their shots and had 13+ goals (Brandon Saad and Mark Stone).

Carter fit in so well, it’s just impossible to think he keeps this rate of goal scoring up. That doesn’t mean he can’t and won’t be effective with his size, PK’ing and also production, but some drop off is coming in 2021-22 from his torrid and somewhat legendary late-career surge that he showed with the Pens this last few months.