If Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is to make more moves on the NHL free-agent market, he will first need to pull a rabbit out of his hat or find a way to clear additional salary. After Day 1 of the free-agent frenzy, we can begin to look ahead to the 2020-21 Penguins lines and get a sense of what the team may look like.
Based on the Corsica Hockey line rankings, the Penguins are a top-heavy team. Very top-heavy.
Based on the eye test, one can draw the same conclusion. On Friday, the Penguins found a couple of blue-light specials and pounced. First, Rutherford brought back scrappy forward Evan Rodrigues, 27, on a one-year, league minimum, $700,000 deal. A few minutes later, he signed former Calgary Flames center Mark Jankowski, 26, to the same deal.
“In Jankowski’s case, he’s a big center that’s good defensively,” Rutherford said. “Two years ago, he scored enough goals that we would be comfortable with him as our third-line center because of his defense, and if he can score in that range, we’d be pretty pleased with that.”
Two seasons ago, Jankowski scored 17 goals, but he scored seven points last season and just five goals in 56 games. Please read the full PHN player scouting report and breakdown here.
Rutherford did note the move will put McCann in a spot where the Penguins feel he is better suited to produce offense.
“That gives us a chance to move McCann to left-wing,” said Rutherford. “The fact of the matter is, if that’s what the line is, we’ll have three guys that can all play center and move around.”
So, here’s what the Penguins lines look like for 2020-21. Note: We still don’t think Jason Zucker and Evgeni Malkin will stick long term, but for consistency sake, we’re going to list them together. We feel Zucker and Crosby are a better match when combined with Jake Guentzel and Malkin. The team goals per 60 extrapolate to a much higher rate with Guentzel on Malkin’s line and Zucker on Crosby’s line. We’ve done the full breakdown of the numbers and how dramatically different they are, here.
Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Kasperi Kapanen
Jason Zucker – Evgeni Malkin – Bryan Rust
Jared McCann – Mark Jankowski – Evan Rodrigues
Brandon Tanev – Teddy Blueger – Colton Sceviour
According to Corsica Hockey statistics, visible on Daily Faceoff, the Penguins top two lines rank in the NHL top-10. The Penguins top line projects as No. 7, overall, and the Penguins second-line ranks fourth. Those seem somewhat accurate, based on the accumulation of last year’s statistics.
However, based on previous year statistics, the Penguins bottom-six are in a bad way. The third line ranks 22nd, which seems a little generous, and the fourth line is 21st, which is about right. However, when Zach Aston-Reese is healthy, the Penguins fourth line, which was defensively dominant last season (and analytics guru Micah McCurdy of HockeyViz.com, explained why Aston-Reese had the largest defensive impact in the league) could be reunited.
Third and fourth lines which do not produce offense will get a team only so far. The Penguins will be searching for upgrades, if not now, then into the season.
We’ll see if the Penguins’ nothing-ventured strategy turns into high gains or nothing lost. PHN does not think the Penguins are done, but it will be tough sledding to add more. According to CapFriendly.com, the Penguins have about $2.5 million remaining, and that doesn’t include the short-term recall cushion teams should keep on hand to avoid playing shorthanded.