The Pittsburgh Penguins added youth, speed, grittiness, and 14 goals to their lineup Monday but had to dish a six-year contract to Brandon Tanev to do it. While the Twitter machine melted because of course, it did, the Penguins added an intriguing piece to their lineup, a fierce penalty killer and a winger who adds fire to a lineup which gave up in Round One against the New York Islanders.
You remember the Islanders, right? The team without much star power which plastered the Penguins using tenacious, gritty players.
Saturday, the Penguins added Alex Galchenyuk as they lost Phil Kessel. With Tanev, the Penguins lineup is beginning to take shape even as GM Jim Rutherford all but tipped his hand for additional moves.
For this lineup, we’ll assume the Penguins do not move Bryan Rust, even though he is one of two prime candidates to move. Rust and one of Jack Johnson or Justin Schultz seemed likely. If Rust stays, Dominik Simon and Dominik Kahun could fight for lineup spots with Zach Aston-Reese, too. Without Rust, all three would presumably be lineup fixtures.
Unless one of the rookies like Sam Poulin or Nathan Legare barge into the NHL bright lights.
A little tidbit, too. Pittsburgh Hockey Now has been told players are nervous and wondering what comes next. Some weren’t thrilled with the Kessel trade. Take it for what it’s worth.
With Tanev’s speed, jam, and presumed puck retrieval ability, the Penguins could create a monster line. I mean an angry, hungry, thumping monster line if they put Tanev and Hornqvist on the same line; whether they put the pair with Evgeni Malkin or Nick Bjugstad, there is potential for dominant puck possession and physical dominance.
For now, we’ve listed Tanev and Hornqvist on different lines for balance. For those of us who believe speed with physicality is a winning combination, it’s scary to think Tanev-Bjugstad-Hornqvist could do. For sure, their goal differential would be fantastic.
Perhaps in the screaming of social media, you missed the level headed analysis of Tanev, Monday. Here’s the primer: He is fast, relentless, dished 278 hits last season, scored 14 goals including a pair of shorthanded tallies, and is an aggressive defender.
Galchenyuk should add some offense on the left side, but his defensive awareness bears observation. Sullivan can slip him on the second line with Malkin or make Galchenyuk the offensive punch on the third line with Bjugstad. And put Tanev on the other line. Either way, it works.
However, the Penguins right wing is still a dicey proposition. Beyond Hornqvist, the right side lacks scoring. We flipped Guentzel to the right side because the Penguins needed pop on that side and because it creates prime space for Jared McCann.
Before I laid out the lines, I considered the Penguins lineup to be subpar, but after taking a look at one potential setup, the Penguins will be hard to play against, they will be FAST, and it will be tough for opponents to score. The Penguins won’t have to score five goals per game to win. They will win games 3-1.
In addition to a potentially aggressive middle line, the Penguins fourth line could be a special unit, too. Rust and Aston-Reese could each add 30 points from that spot as they defend the opponent’s top line.
And if the Penguins deal Rust, they’ll lose a valuable swiss army knife but their lineup will not be as impacted as it would have been just a few days ago.
Tanev has not had great advanced stats in the last two seasons–he’s bubbled around 50% and 48% Corsi but he also started 59% of his shifts in the defensive zone. That’s staggering. On an offensive team, perhaps in a more offensive role, Tanev could explode, or more likely, he could help others explode much like Carl Hagelin did for Malkin and Nick Bonino.
When you lay it all out and can see it–Believe it or not, the Penguins are better. It’s not a traditional Penguins squad. It’s more like the Columbus or New York Islanders teams but with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the middle.
Choose hysteria if you like. Or take a look at the above. I’ll tell you when things aren’t right, such as with Tanner Pearson and at the end of the Derick Brassard era. And I’ll tell you why things aren’t right, such as the beginning of the Jack Johnson era.
If you open yourself to enjoying it, these Penguins could be a hammering good time.