Hockey fans get their first post-trade deadline glance at the new-look Penguins on Wednesday. Then again, it’s also true that later versions of the Penguins will look different from the group that faces the Kings on NBCSN at 10:30 p.m. ET (stream here).
Penguins roll out new trade deadline additions in these lineups — for now
Like many other NHL coaches, Mike Sullivan likes to tinker with his combinations. Injuries forced Sullivan to do so anyway this season, and the Penguins’ trade deadline investments now give him a plethora of options. When/if certain players come back, the variety will only grow.
Let’s go forward line by forward line based on NHL.com’s projected combos for Wednesday, since that’s where Pittsburgh made acquisitions.
As new-look as the Penguins feel, there seems to be warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the reunion of Crosby and Sheary. Personally, I never understood why Pittsburgh broke them up in the first place. (Especially if the answer is troublingly “to afford bad defenseman Jack Johnson.”)
In a lineup breakdown from The Athletic’s Josh Yohe (sub required), both Crosby and Sheary amusingly described each other as easy to play with. Sullivan’s comments provided a little more substance.
“He brings a speed element,” Sullivan said of Sheary. “He can finish. He’s good in traffic. A lot of attributes that Conor brings to the table are complementary to Sid.”
Sheary can think the game at a reasonable level with Crosby, and the early returns on Zucker indicate the same. (On paper, Zucker seems like a no-brainer fit for Crosby, but in reality not everyone clicks with 87.)
Still, there are a number of different factors that could break these fellows up. What if Jake Guentzel beats the timeline for recovery from his shoulder surgery, at least for the playoffs? Will Penguins eventually want a right-handed shot with Crosby instead of two other lefties?
This seems like a good mix overall, at least to start, though.
Business as usual there, basically. Rust and Hornqvist can work with Crosby if needed, so that’s nice.
Trade deadline additions make two-thirds of this third line, and the potential is interesting. Simon ranks as the most feasible candidate to move up, possibly with Crosby again. While Marleau ranks as a bigger name, Rodrigues stands out as a fascinating wild card.
People have been noting Rodrigues’ potential as a hidden gem for some time.
(His underlying numbers still look good at Hockey Viz, although things slipped a bit in 2019-20 compared to more robust work in 2017-18 and 2018-19.)
The sheer variety of useful players in the Penguins’ top nine is really something, especially when you realize that Jared McCann could end up being a more regular fit as third-line center. Nick Bjugstad already feels like old news, considering the revolving door of Penguins forwards, yet he’s another interesting player if health eventually permits.
Then you have what seems to be a pretty strong fourth line from a defensive standpoint. Quite a group.
(Oh yeah, and there’s also Zach Aston-Reese. Healthy scratches could eventually become straight-up awkward if most/everyone actually gets healthy.)
[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]
Defense and other considerations for Penguins
NHL.com projects Pittsburgh’s Wednesday defensive pairings as such:
Jack Johnson — Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson — Justin Schultz
Juuso Riikola — Chad Ruhwedel
Naturally, injuries have been a factor for the Penguins’ defense (and also goalies including Matt Murray). Moving past players who have worked past injuries like Letang and Schultz, Pittsburgh has some significant blueliners on the shelf. It’s possible Brian Dumoulin may return with time to shake off rust before the playoffs, while rookie revelation John Marino is recovery from surgery after a wayward puck broke bones in his cheek.
In other words … the Penguins’ defense could continue to look quite different as things go along, much like their forward groups.
Despite all that turbulence, the Penguins figure to be a formidable opponent, particularly after stocking up with Zucker, Sheary, Marleau, and Rodrigues in recent times. Catch your first look at that new-look group against the Kings on Wednesday on NBCSN.
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.