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What went right (and wrong) for some of the Penguins’ secondary scorers

Looking back at the performances versus expectations for four key players on the 2022-23 Pittsburgh Penguins roster.

Philadelphia Flyers v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Before the 2022-23 NHL season began we discussed some over/under totals for a lot of the Penguins top players, including a quartet of their secondary scoring options after Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel.

Now that the season is officially in the books, let’s rewind back and see how we did.

And more importantly, how they did.

Rickard Rakell

Preseason Over/Under: 25.5 goals
How you voted: Over (58 percent)
How he did: 28 goals. He went over.

In a season of disappointment Rakell was one of the few positive surprises and one of the few good things that former general manager Ron Hextall did in his two years on the job.

The trade was great, the contract extension is strong, and Rakell proved himself as an extremely valuable part of the Penguins’ lineup, consistently making every line he was a part of more productive.

His 28 goals and 60 points were his highest totals since the 2017-18 season, while the 60-point mark was the second-highest mark of his career.

The most encouraging part of his performance was that his goal-scoring was not driven by a shooting percentage spike or anything unsustainable. He shot just 11 percent for the season which is almost exactly in line with his career average.

The big difference for him this season was being healthy enough to play a full season and being a great fit alongside talented players.

That was always the big wild card for me when the Penguins acquired him. How much of his decline in Anaheim was a product of his own struggles, and how much of it was the fact the team around him had been consistently gutted and lacked playmakers.

He showed this year he can still finish and play at a top-line level.

Bryan Rust

Preseason over/under: 30.5 goals
How you voted: Under (61 percent)
How he did: 20 goals. He went under.

This was a weird season for Rust.

There were stretches where he did not look right, especially on the power play.

His underlying numbers were consistently strong, but his goal total dropped to its lowest output in four years.

After scoring at a 30-plus goal pace per 82 games over the previous three seasons, he dropped down to 20 goals in 81 games, and he needed to score four goals in the final eight games of the season just to get there.

Sign of a concerning decline, especially given his contract, or just a season of bad luck?

A big argument in favor of the latter is that his shooting percentage dropped to below 10 percent for the first time in his career, while he still seemed to have strong underlying numbers. A bounce back season could be in store next year.

But I will also add he was the one returning player whose contract I had the most reservations about. Non-star players getting long-term deals into their 30s can carry some risk, and even though Rust came back for less than what he could have gotten in free agency, I think if the Penguins (or any other team) had signed him to a similar deal as a UFA we might have looked at it and said, “boy that is a risky contract.”

I am not giving up on him just yet. I do think he can still be very good and productive next season. But the drop in goals and how often he seemed to be unnoticeable this season is somewhat concerning.

Jeff Carter

Preseason Over/Under: 20.5 goals
How you voted: Under (83 percent)
How he did: 13 goals. He went way under.

You did not believe in Jeff Carter before the season, and he validated those concerns with his actual play.

I thought Carter was going to be an X-factor for the season and that his performance would be one of the ones that would make-or-break their season. That is kind of what happened, but not in the way anybody wanted.

He was awful, it helped sink the third line, and that helped the Penguins’ scoring depth become a season-long issue.

There were obvious concerns with Carter entering the season, from his age, to his poor underlyng numbers, to his contract. But the one thing you could say about him during his time in Pittsburgh over his first year-and-a-half with the team is that for all of his flaws he at least demonstrated an ability to score goals. He scored 36 goals in his first 92 games (including playoffs), which is a really strong number. That is a 32-goal pace over 82 games.

A lot of that success, though, was shooting percentage driven. When that dried up, any value he might have had as a depth player completely disappeared. Now the Penguins are stuck with it for another year.

Kasperi Kapanen

Preseason Over/Under: 15.5 goals
How you voted: Over (68 percent)
How he did: Under. He scored seven goals in 43 games with the Penguins and 15 goals total between the Penguins and Blues.

This was a weird one here. You had faith in Kapanen having a decent year, and he almost matched the total.

He just did not do it entirely with the Penguins, while his Penguins tenure for the season was wildly frustrating.

He was a healthy scratch at times, he was probably the best of the team’s bottom-six options, but he still never quite put all of his individual talents together and remained the wildly inconsistent hit-and-miss player that frustrated us and the Penguins for three years. the decision to give him that two-year contract extension was a huge swing and miss by Hextall and it seemed like that was going to be another empty $3 million-plus against the salary cap through next season.

After he was claimed on waivers by the Blues it was seen as a huge gift for the Penguins to get rid of that money, right up until they wasted it by trading for Mikael Granlund (that is another discussion for another day).

Kapanen scored eight goals and 14 total points in 23 games with the Blues, but that came on a 17 percent shooting percentage that is well above his career average and what we should expect from him consistently. It is probably not sustainable. If I had to guess he plays the 2023-24 season doing the exact same thing he has done throughout his entire career. Showing great skill but never really being a consistent producer.