Pittsburgh Penguins 2011-12 Season Preview: Center

With the 2011-12 NHL preseason officially over and “real” hockey to start tonight, it’s finally time to release my Pittsburgh Penguins Season Preview. I’ll break the team down in four separate posts and publish them rapid-fire, giving some statistical projections along the way, and ending with my season prediction for the team as a whole.

The middle of the ice is clearly this team’s strong point. Hockey fans all over the globe are aware of the Penguins’ world-class 1-2-3 punch at center, consisting of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. Find a better combination of centers on one team who doesn’t play during the All-Star break and I’ll personally mail you a cookie. Your choice of cookie type.

While Sidney Crosby and his recovery from that lingering concussion have been the big story in Pittsburgh since January, we, as a city, need to move on. He’s not playing in the home opener. He won’t be playing during this three-game Western Canada road trip, and he probably won’t even play this month.

Nobody knows when he’ll be back. I’ll keep you all updated on the situation, but it’s time to play without him. The man behind him on the depth chart is who we should be focusing on.

Evgeni Malkin. If you know me personally, you know my opinion of Geno. I’ve never been a big Geno fan, simply because people thought the “cool” thing to do was to believe that he was better than Sidney Crosby for a certain period of time. However, with that debate settled, if you follow me on twitter or have friended me on Facebook, you know my opinion on this guy right now. He’s absolutely at another (Crosby-like) level. He put in more work this offseason than he ever has, and claims his surgically repaired knee is even better than before the injury.

The National Hockey League better be ready for Evgeni Malkin. I don’t think it is. I fully expect Geno to get back to his 2009 self. The one who put up 113 points and helped lead the Penguins to the franchise’s third Stanley Cup.

Mark Letestu will center the team’s third-line at least until Crosby returns, and Joe Vitale, who looked great in camp and in the preseason, will begin as the team’s fourth-line center. Vitale could very well push Letestu out of his third-line spot.

Prediction: Evgeni Malkin – 47 G, 70 A, 117 P. Art Ross trophy (top scorer)

Fun Fact: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal have played together in 7 of the last 96 games. Look out, NHL.

Check out the rest of my Pittsburgh Penguins 2011-12 Season Preview: Wing | Defense |Goalie/Team

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