With a lack of forwards, the Pittsburgh Penguins must construct their lines wisely. There are a handful of players who will remain in their respective spots, but there are some players who will be finding a new niche. This is what the Penguins lineup should look like come October:
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Steve Downie
Patric Hornqvist – Evgeni Malkin – Beau Bennett
Nick Spaling – Brandon Sutter – Pascal Dupuis
Blake Comeau – Marcel Goc – Craig Adams
Kunitz undeniably belongs with Crosby. They are like peas and carrots, but Crosby’s usual right-hand man, Dupuis, is getting older and currently recovering from ACL surgery. Dupuis will return as a skilled winger, but it might be best for the 35-year-old to take a spot on the third line. Having Dupuis take a spot on the third line will help assure that talent is spread all throughout the lineup, rather than being segregated to the top six.
If Dupuis becomes a third liner, there aren’t too many players who could fill his old spot. As impressive as Kasperi Kapanen has been in the offseason, I don’t see him starting with the Penguins. There is a good chance that he will be called up at some point, especially if there is an injury in the forward department. That leaves the Penguins with Downie.
I have said before that I am not a fan of Downie, but like any new addition, I am willing to see what he is capable of bringing to the table. Since Downie has worked with Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet before and posted impressive numbers with him, Downie might not only be able to “protect” his teammates, but deliver points as well.
Malkin has been without a winger since James Neal was traded to the Nashville Predators for Hornqvist and Spaling. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford doesn’t seem concerned with this, so the Penguins’ best option is to pair Malkin with Hornqvist and Bennett. Hornqvist has the ability to produce similar numbers to Neal and he has already stated that he could play either left or right wing. Bennett has great potential, but he has shown more success playing with Malkin rather than Crosby.
As the season goes on, changes in the lineup will be inevitable. Coaches will try experimenting here and there, especially if they want to try Kapanen in the NHL. But this should be a close estimate of who we will see on the ice and where for the Penguins’ first game.