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Checking back on the Penguins’ top five scorers

How did the predictions go for who would lead the Pens in scoring?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Last summer we tried to predict the Penguins’ top five leading scorers, so on a Sunday let’s check back in to see how it went.

The prediction:

1. Crosby

2. Guentzel

3. Rust

4. Letang

5. Zucker

And the results:

This season saw Jake Guentzel co-lead the Penguins in scoring, playing seven more games than Sidney Crosby but also scoring nine more goals. Guentzel’s season marks the first time since 2003-04 where a name other than Crosby or Evgeni Malkin led Pittsburgh in scoring, though Crosby can still claim a partial hold on this season.

Otherwise, Pittsburgh got personal career-highs in points from Kris Letang and Bryan Rust. That’s great seasons and timely ones for both of them too, being as both were in contract years. Rust, of course, parlayed this big year into a big time six-year contract extension. Negotiations still persist with Letang, but you would think on the ice the team absolutely needs to find a way to keep him in the fold to eat the minutes he still does and also facilitate so much of the offense.

The fifth leading scorer ended up being Jeff Carter, who ended up narrowly ahead of Evan Rodrigues (43 points) and Evgeni Malkin (42 points in 41 games).

Carter is in an interesting spot, he re-signed early on January 26th for two more seasons after a great start to the season. Unfortunately from there, the optics of this look bad since Carter scored just one goal and added three assists in the next 15 games following the extension being announced. That cold spell, plus some terrible advanced stats, have soured some in the fan base on the future — even though Carter actually rebounded and finished the season with 16 points (6G+10A) in the last 25 games after the slump was over.

What can Pittsburgh still get out of Carter moving forward? A long season for an aging player will probably provide slumps and cold spells, but his skill and shooting ability should mean that he can produce points at a third line level while playing all over the place on special teams. Carter is strong on faceoffs, but will likely need strong wingers to help stay out of the defensive zone. That will be something to watch too, since other than Brock McGinn the Penguins don’t have a lot of known lower line wingers in place for next season.

Next year’s top five scoring is up in the air too. Crosby, Guentzel and now Rust will all be back and counted on to do their thing and drive the team. Should Malkin stay and also play in enough games, he will be among the team’s leading scorers too but that is up in the air as of right now as well.

From there, questions abound about how Pittsburgh will set up their team. Will Rodrigues be back? Can the team find an addition of second line talent? If so, a fresh name might break into the ranks.