The Penguins are looking to make the playoffs for the 17th straight season and grab their first playoff series win since 2018. There will be a lot of different key factors that will go into this season, but if all of them come out positively, we could see the Penguins making another deep run that we know their current roster is capable of doing.
Goaltending will play an enormous role in deciding if the Penguins can be competitive this season. Last year, Tristian Jarry proved he could be a starting goaltender in the NHL. Among goalies to play at least 30 games, he was sixth in goals-against average (2.42), tied for sixth in save percentage (.919), and allowed two or fewer goals in 34 of the 56 games he started for the Pens last season. In the first half of the season, Jarry played lights out, going 18-6-4 with a 1.91 GAA and a .923 SV% in 28 games before Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup. If the Penguins want a great season, they will need Jarry to keep his elite style of play.
#2: Depth Scoring
The Penguins cannot rely on Crosby, Malkin, and Guentzel to carry the load. Bryan Rust will need to have a repeat performance of last season, where he had 24 goals and 58 points in 60 games. Danton Heinen also had a career year, in which he scored 18 goals for the Pens. Jeff Carter also had his best season since 2016-17, putting up 19 goals and 45 points. Having a healthy Jason Zucker would also be super beneficial, as he has scored 20+ goals four times in his career.
#3: Staying Healthy
The Penguins look way more healthy heading into this season than last season. Last year, both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were out at the start of the season, with Crosby missing the first 12 of 13 games recovering from wrist surgery and getting COVID-19, and Malkin out until January 11th recovering from knee surgery. These two, along with Jason Zucker, Bryan Rust, Teddy Blueger, and Brock McGinn, all missed more than 12 games last season. The Pens still managed to deal with the adversity and make the playoffs, but a healthy Pens lineup could be a key that helps this team past the first round again.
#4: New Defensemen
The Penguins added several new defensemen this offseason. Acquiring Jeff Petey and Ty Smith through trades and signing two-time Stanley Cup Champion Jan Rutta. Prospect Pierre-Olivier Joesph could also grab a roster spot this season as well. Joseph has played in 20 career NHL games, putting up one goal and five points. He tied for ninth last year among AHL defensemen with ten goals in 61 games. His size and offensive ability could make an interesting battle for the final defensive spot between him and Smith. Petry was acquired along with forward Ryan Poehling on July 16th from the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman Mike Matheson and a 2023 fourth-round pick. The Penguins are looking for Petry to return to his solid play, in which he has had 11+ goals and 40+ points in four straight seasons between 2017-21. Last season was a down year for Petry, in which he had only six goals and 27 points in 68 games. He is still a solid defenseman who uses his size very well and can move the puck quickly and smartly. If he can get his offensive game back, the Penguins may have got themselves another good defenseman.
Valteri Puustinen put up 20 goals and 42 points in 73 games for Wilkes-Barrie/Scranton (AHL) last year and had an assist in his first NHL game last season. He has looked pretty good in training camp so far, and a top 9 role could be a likely possibility this upcoming season.
#6: Breakout Stars
Kasperi Kapanen has to start proving himself for this Penguins team this season. He scored 11 goals in 40 games two seasons ago, but last season scored 11 goals in 79 games, including ending the season (playoffs included) with a 21-game goal drought. Kapanen will likely play right wing on the third line with Carter and Heinen as his linemates, but if he can finally get his groove back, I feel like he will find himself in the top 6 sooner rather than later.
#7: Sleeper Star
Look for Rickard Rakell to solidify himself as a star on this year’s Penguins team. He had four goals and 13 points, as well as 38 hits, in 19 games since being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks on March 21st. He is likely to be the RW on a line with Malkin and Zucker, and he could help make that line a scary line to play against.