The Penguins have completed a successful developmental year that should hopefully lead to a much stronger roster in the coming season.
At the beginning of the inaugural BEARD season, many were picking the Pens to finish at the bottom of the conference and contend for best odds in the Entry Draft lottery. After all, who could blame them for thinking that?
Little high end proven talent, questionable center depth, and unproven young talent is often a recipe for a difficult season. However, the Pens just completed a successful developmental year that should hopefully lead to a much stronger roster next season.
It was assumed that the Pens would struggle to score at the pro level but due to a unique focus they finished with the 2nd most goals in the Eastern Conference. The offense was led by a first line that consisted of an overachieving Jeff Carter who finished 6th in goals with 41, a tough as nails Boone Jenner who had 78 points (and led the team with 151 hits), and an aging Tyler Bozak with a staggering 72 points. All 3 players finished with seasons that would be considered their career best season in the NHL.
But, the real growth came from the youth movement within the pro ranks. Kaapo Kakko led all rookies with 33 goals. Cale Makar was a stud all year while leading all defenseman with 61 points and tied for the league lead for points by a rookie.
All in all, 3 Pens finished in the top 7 rookie scorers at the professional level with Cody Glass finishing 7th with 39 points. The pens also received strong contributions from Michael Ferland (who was acquired in a very questionable trade by GM Matt Swackhammer) with 23 goals and 48 points and Ryan Donato with 21 goals. Brett Howden chipped in with 32 points and led the forwards with 33 takeaways while playing primarily a shutdown center role on the 3rd line.
Defensively, the Pens were better than advertised as they posted the 4th lowest shots against per game, which was a total team effort. Despite some GM’s thinking he “struggled defensively and couldn’t be a reliable partner for Cale Makar”, Miro Heiskanen led the team with 78 takeaways (8th best in the league) and played the 6th most minutes in the league.
The Pens coaching staff did end up splitting up Makar and Heiskanen for better balance in their pairings and to ensure that there was an elite puck mover on the top 2 pairings. Around the time of this switch is when the team took off with their massive run in the 2nd half of the season.
If you read this far you may wonder how did this team finish out of the playoffs with the contributions they receive above? Well, the answer is goaltending. At the beginning of the year, Frederik Anderson struggled but did eventually rebound to finish with a solid .908 save percentage (17th in the league) and a 2.95 GAA (19th). However, Jonathan Quick struggled posting an abysmal .886 save percentage and 3.44 GAA across 27 starts.
It is widely expected that Jake Oettinger could be ready to take over some minutes next season from Quick but that will depend on offseason training.
Overall, Swackhammer was said to be very pleased with the progress of the pro roster this season. With ample cap space and many assets available, it is expected that they could be major players in both the trade and free agency markets in the offseason.
Swackhammer is said to want another top 4 puck moving defenseman and possibly a top 6 center. Additionally, it is also possible that Frederik Anderson could be available depending on the progress of Oettinger.
Join us later this week when we review the playoff bound Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.