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Should Rakell play with Crosby or Malkin in 2022-23?

To be on the top line, or not to be? That is the question.

Nashville Predators v Pittsburgh Penguins
Rickard Rakell celebrates Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal against the Nashville Predators at PPG Paints Arena on April 10.
Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

The Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell line was one of the most dominant of the Penguins’ 2021-22 season.

Natural Stat Trick says, in 91 minutes played together at 5v5:

  • They dominated scoring chances (69 for, 32 against.)
  • They won almost 75% of all offensive zone face-offs.
  • The Penguins had a 98.31 save percentage while they were on the ice, and allowed no high-danger goals.

Penguins fans don’t need advanced stats to know Guentzel - Crosby - Rakell was a dominant line— it was clear in how difficult it was for other teams to take possession when they had the puck in the offensive zone, and how Rakell was able to connect with the two on quick, tricky passes.

But were the trio good enough to break up Guentzel - Crosby - Rust, a line which led the playoffs in controlling high-quality scoring chances when they were on the ice, according to MoneyPuck?

Or is it time for Rakell to work on developing a connection with Malkin?

“He’s such a great player. I have to find a way to be successful with him.” —Rakell on Evgeni Malkin, from 93.7 The Fan

Colorado Avalanche vs Pittsburgh Penguins
Evgeni Malkin and Rickard Rakell skate against the Avalanche’s Cale Makar in Colorado.

Rakell spent about the same amount of 5v5 time on Malkin’s wing as he did Crosby’s in 2022-23. The main difference: he did not find as much immediate success in possession or scoring.

The line was slightly on the wrong side of possession time (49.13 CF%), allowed eight goals against while scoring three, and saw an on-ice save percentage of just 83.67%.

The Penguins began considering shifting the lines around April 10, when the Predators came to town with Rakell on Malkin’s line. Rakell tallied three assists— but they all came during shift overlaps with Crosby, including an assist on the captain’s 1,400th point.

The Penguins got Rakell with the intention of slotting him in on Malkin’s wing, but they only found the boost in top-six scoring they’d been looking for when they slid the former Ducks winger up to the top line.

This begs the question— should the Penguins start the season with Rakell, or Bryan Rust, on the right side of the top line?

The two wingers have many similar qualities. Rust’s biggest strength may be his relentless forechecking. Rakell’s may be his shot. But both are similarly-sized skaters, fast on the rush, who can pressure the other team into making mistakes on the forecheck, and can finish off plays from skilled playmakers but aren’t known for crafting scoring chances on their own.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen Rust succeed on both Crosby’s and Malkin’s lines. He scored a career-high 27 goals in 2019-20, a year spent mostly on Malkin’s wing.

From our small-ish sample size last season, Rakell found most of his chemistry with Crosby, and has yet to fully click with Malkin.

But Rakell only played about 90 minutes on both lines. Is that worth breaking up Guentzel-Crosby-Rust, a reliable line which has been successful for the Penguins for years?

Time for you to sound off. Would Rust or Rakell’s game compliment Malkin’s more? What do you think the Penguins’ second line should look like next season?

Poll

Who would you rather seen on Malkin’s line in 2022-23?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    Bryan Rust
    (1238 votes)
  • 17%
    Rickard Rakell
    (270 votes)
1508 votes total Vote Now