At first, I tried to divide this preview into left wing and right wing, but soon realized the impossibility of that considering how often head coach Dan Bylsma swaps line pieces and how versatile the Penguins’ wingers really are.
For example, super-utility Pascal Dupuis can essentially play either wing on any forward line. Tyler Kennedy can play all three forward positions. James Neal is a natural left winger, but the Penguins are trying to groom him into playing on the right side. Fourth-line Craig Adams can play either wing as well as center, as can Richard Park.
In addition to the guys listed above, the Penguins will deploy Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke, and Steve MacIntyre on the left wing, and Arron Asham on the right.
Sullivan and Neal look to be the team’s top line wingers for tonight, with Kunitz and Kennedy flanking Jordan Staal on line two.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen as far as line combinations this year, especially when Sidney Crosby returns.
If Malkin develops some chemistry with Sullivan and/or Neal, we may see those three guys stick on a line for good. On the other hand, if no obvious chemistry forms before Sid gets back, Bylsma may go with a stud line of Kunitz – Crosby – Neal. There’s really no telling at this point.
What I can tell you, though, is that the team isn’t particularly deep at wing this season. Outside of the 32-year-old Kunitz, there are no sure bets.
Neal, while he didn’t get to play with Crosby or Malkin last season, scored one goal and added five assists in his 20 regular season games in Pittsburgh.
While Kennedy finally reached the 20-goal plateau, one must wonder whether his amplified numbers were simply a product of greater opportunity due to all of the injuries the Penguins suffered last season, or if he truly is on the verge of breaking out.
Sullivan is probably the biggest mystery of the Penguins’ wingers. The 5-8 forward has the hands to excel, even at the ripe old age of 37. What he doesn’t necessarily have is the durability. Sullivan has played at least 70 games in a year just once in the last seven seasons. He put up 52 points in 2009-10 with the defensive-minded Nashville Predators, but recorded just 10 goals and 12 assists in 44 games last season. Will Sullivan pan out in Pittsburgh? Will he be able to keep up with Crosby and/or Malkin and make former Predators assistant GM Ray Shero look good for signing him? Or will we see Mike Comrie V2.0?
Predictions: Chris Kunitz – 27 G, 31 A, 54 P
James Neal – 24 G, 26 A, 50 P
Tyler Kennedy – 21 G, 19 A, 40 P