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The five Penguins players I am most curious about, 2023-24 edition

It’s no shocker who the most intriguing player to watch on the Penguins will be this season

San Jose Sharks v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

It took no time at all for Kyle Dubas to put his stamp on the Penguins, the team has a chance for their most turnover from year-to-year ever.

All of those moves has given new energy and a different vibe to the Pittsburgh hockey club. What was settling into a stale mix of a team gradually sliding further and further from contention has now been rejuvenated. No one truly knows it if will work out perfectly or if the best days are over, but it’s a bold stab at something new.

And here’s who we’re looking forward to seeing the most.

Erik Karlsson

Duh. Has to be No. 1 on anyone’s list, Karlsson was the biggest name to change teams this off-season and now he’s a Penguin. He put up 100 points last season on a dreadful team. What can he do when adjusting to playing with top-end talent like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin? How reckless will he be defensively? How much fun is the power play going to be? There’s so much intrigue here.

Ryan Graves

Staying on the blueline, the “other” add to the Pens should a big one. Literally. Graves, at 6’5” and 220 pounds will be one of the largest defenders that Pittsburgh has had in quite a while, outside of Jamie Oleksiak. Despite the size and reputation, Graves might be a different style of player than you think. He is not a Brooks Orpik or Brian Dumoulin type that is rugged in his own end a non-factor in the offensive zone. Graves is not super physical (though he does use his stick to block a ton of shots) and he does look to jump into the play. He’s a defender the Pens need to be steady and compliment Karlsson or Kris Letang. How those pairs shake out will be an interesting development too.

Reilly Smith

Jason Zucker left some big skates to fill after his 27-goal season last year. But the last time Reilly Smith was on the ice, he was holding the Stanley Cup over his head and was one of the many reasons that Vegas won the title. Smith is an exciting player, his speed and transition game to get north fast would seemingly be tailor-made to run ‘n gun with Evgeni Malkin.

Smith is a pro’s pro, he produces points. He’s got six career years of putting up 50+ points, including last year. He’s been very reliable and steady and it only gets better to realize that Dubas acquired him for almost nothing (a third round pick) to help Vegas get out of a salary jam. Something about getting an asset for little cost will make it even sweeter to see his success.

Bryan Rust

Rust had a season to forget in 2022-23. On a team bugged so frustratingly by failing to convert chances into goals, no one was a bigger offender than Rust. Per Moneypuck:

Is this decline the result of a one-year aberration some bad luck mixed with a drop in confidence? Those type of things usually reverse and bounce-back. Or is Rust’s skills also falling off and will scoring goals become more difficult for him at this stage of his career? Rust doesn’t have a lot to prove at this point and has the security of a long-term contract but will be a player to watch this year just the same.

Noel Acciari

I believe Noel Acciari will be the face of the bottom-six rebuild that Kyle Dubas undertook this off-season. Dubas had Acciari back in Toronto, and liked him enough to give the 32-year old a three-year contract. Pretty big term for a lower liner, but there’s a reason that Dubas was willing to ante up to secure Acciari’s services as a free agent.

Acciari will be more “Brandon Tanev” than “Brock McGinn”. That will be music to the ears of Pens’ fans to see some energy, passion and excitement back on the ice. McGinn wasn’t even bad, he was just kinda there like vanilla ice cream and had the unenviable task of being the successor to a firecracker in Tanev. Acciari won’t have any such problems, and like Tanev he tends to pop in some timely goals that will also help endear him to the Pittsburgh faithful.