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The five Penguins players I am most curious about in 2021-22

A list of the most interesting players on the team this season

NHL: APR 15 Flyers at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the new season is about to begin, with prospects first taking to the ice today at the practice facility in Cranberry, let’s check in on some interesting individuals for the Penguins this season.

Evgeni Malkin

Malkin had knee surgery in early June, over four months before the start of the season. Yet the team is still being vague about his status, with an update expected soon. There’s already whispers that Malkin will be LTIR bound and miss the very 10 games, and possibly a significant number more. That’s enough to be interested, what does Malkin have in his knee? Is he able to still capture some of the 2019-20 magic, where he was one of the league’s best offensive players?

Oh yeah, and this is the last season on Malkin’s eight year contract, with even less reports or updates about any negotiation status or signs of progress. That means Evgeni Malkin — Conn Smythe winner, 3x Cup winner, most impactful forward in franchise history not named Sid or Mario — has t-minus 9.5 months tied to the Pittsburgh Penguin organization. Partially due to being in the shadow of Crosby, Malkin gets the Rodney Dangerfield treatment even sometimes among his own fanbase. Malkin from 2006-21 had one of the greatest runs as a star center. For 15 years!

The injury, the contract situation, how the team will fare in his absence, how will he perform when he is back? Malkin is in a very interesting spot and moment of his career right now.

Tristan Jarry

It’s hard to not have Jarry first, but that Malkin situation is just potentially a really big deal, clouded in mystery for the moment anyways. What Tristan Jarry is coming to camp? One who has mentally moved on from literally passing away the team’s playoff hopes away? Or one whose mind is still in a pretzel.

Or, what roller coaster does he have in store next season:

“Bad Tristan*”: Jan 13 - Feb 14: 3-4-1, .864 save%, 3.82 GAA
“Good Jarry” : Feb 15 - Apr 1: 20-5-4, .924 save%, 2.35 GAA
“Bad Tristan Part II”: May 2 - May 26: 4-4-0, .880 save%, 3.37 GAA

The goalie in the middle was as good as about anyone, and for a very large portion of the season. Jarry started cold and slow, in a period that coincidenced with so many defensive injuries, but then was great. Then he took a minor injury in early May, and looked at times like he had never played goalie in the Islanders series. It’s all over the place.

NHL goaltending is clearly such an obvious important point that can make or break teams. Goalies are famously volatile but Jarry is even more unpredictable right now. Can he fix what ended wrong or will his performance as the season starts keep the goaltending picture murky?

(*Sounds like the name of a 2000’s era WB drama with a brooding bad boy teen, doesn’t it?)

Mike Matheson

After settling in with a new team, not much training camp and an early injury, Mike Matheson appeared to be settling in as a Penguin. From March 29th until April 30th, Matheson recorded 11 points (3G+8A) in 16 games going into May 1st. That was quite the turn from his first 27 games of the season up until 3/27, when Matheson only had five points (2g+3A).

On May 1st, Jarry made an unfortunate clearing attempt that left Matheson down in a heap with facial injuries. Accidents happen, but it ended up being a sign to come for Jarry’s misadventures outside of the crease. Matheson was back for the playoffs, but didn’t record a point and was only probably “just OK”.

In year 2 with the Pens can Matheson get back to how he played in April? Time and again, we’ve seen talented defensemen struggle in a first season in Pittsburgh (from Sergei Gonchar to Paul Martin, and to an extent Justin Schultz) struggle in their first year with the Pens improve drastically in the second season. Could Matheson add his name to that list?

Brock McGinn

It’s not a flashy name, but he’s the biggest off-season addition. New things are fun to discover exactly how they will fit in and offer to the team. McGinn got a fairly significant four years of contract term to play a middle or lower six role, and a decently-sized salary as well. Is he going to steal the hearts and minds of fans like Brandon Tanev did? The specter of the long-haired speedster will linger on this team, or at least a sizeable portion of the fans.

Kasperi Kapanen

On one hand, Kapanen’s successful first season in Pittsburgh with 30 points in 40 games might prove to be in-line for some regression and might not be sustainable. On the other hand, the 25-year old is in his prime, thriving in a system where he can use his speed to generate offense and could be seeing increased usage at the start of the season since Kapanen is surely one of the more skilled and better healthy forwards on the team right now.

It’s also, somewhat quietly, a contract year for Kapanen. He will remain a restricted free agent, but another productive year will have him making a strong case for getting a raise on his current $3.2 million cap hit.

Who are you most curious about seeing next season?