After breaking down where the Penguins stood on Travis Yost at TSN’s interesting series to set tiers for the whole league for centers and defense, we missed that he threw out rankings for left and right wings last week. Makes sense to take them together and talk today about both of those outlooks.
While Pittsburgh was ranked Tier 2 for both C and D (with Tier 1 being the best), they didn’t stack up so well on the wings.
The Pens came in lowly Tier 4 (just one from the bottom) here. Yost gave Jake Guentzel some props for his 40-goal season but pointed out that he was “ carrying the lion’s share of production at the position”. That makes sense, being as Jason Zucker and Brock McGinn only combined for 20 goals and 19 assists last year.
The left side is an area where Pittsburgh will need more out of Zucker and McGinn next year. It’s debatable whether they will get a huge bump up though, Zucker’s stint in Pittsburgh has been marred by injury. He has the potential to provide more, but needs to finally get even a 30-40 game stretch of consistent play to prove it.
McGinn has only scored 60 goals and 111 assists in the last six seasons (388 games), which translates to an 82-game season average of 13 goals and 14 assists. McGinn has been steady, but rarely offers higher highs than that.
Drew O’Connor could be in the mix too, though waiver statuses might force Ryan Poehling in the mix. Danton Heinen seemed to play a lot on the left, and could be an option to boost this side. So could others Bryan Rust or Rickard Rakell could shift over to the left, which also would naturally weaken the right by making such a move.
After taking a look, if the Pens have room for an in-season addition or try to beef up for the playoffs with a trade deadline type acquisition, nabbing a middle-six left wing looks like it would be high on the list, at least in the pre-season outlooks.
The Pens only came in Tier 3 for RW’s, which considering the listing of Bryan Rust - Rickard Rakell - Kasperi Kapanen - Danton Heinen feels pretty low. That’s a lot of talent there, but also requires some presumptions to get there.
Heinen scored 18 goals last season, 15 at 5v5 play. That’s very impressive, but also could prove difficult to produce again this season. Kapanen needs a total reset and reboost after a dreadful 2021-22, but his very nature and resume suggest a hot-and-cold player who should be expected to play better next year then his most recent results.
Then we get to Rakell in his first full season in Pittsburgh. He fit in reasonably well with 13 points in 19 games last year, but that also only included four goals. The difference between him scoring 15-20 goals next season and 25+ could be the difference in being seen as a Tier 2 vs Tier 3. Not that such a distinction really matters but Rakell’s impact on the team could be a real game changer.
Rust is reliable as the day is long and a very known quantity on the top line. After three seasons of impressive scoring, there’s not a lot to sweat, though it would be nice if he doesn’t miss 15-20 games this year and pushes into that 30g-70ish point range to establish himself as a full-flight top RW in any metric.
Overall with these rankings, the Pens are in good shape. They will need their centers to help elevate the wingers, but that is nothing new. As outlooks and breakdowns like these show, besides Guentzel and Rust, there are a lot of wingers that have a lot to prove or showcase this season.