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2021-22 Pittsburgh Penguins Preview: If it’s not broke, don’t fix it

Not many things changed in Pittsburgh, despite a first-round exit, but don’t hit the alarm just yet.

Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins checks Casey Cizikas #53 of the New York Islanders in Game 6 of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Nassau Coliseum on May 26, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins are coming into the 2021-22 season the way they always do: not the best team in their division, but still pretty good. The team still has much of the core left, only losing small pieces from year to year since their back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017. Players like Sidney Crobsy, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are still all there, if a bit older, but the team still has some young talent like Jake Guentzel to make up for that.

The San Jose Sharks will face them two times this year, both in January.

Where they left off

The Penguins finished the regular season with a 37-16-3 record, topping the 2021 East Division as one of the league-best offensive teams, second overall in goals for with 196. Despite a new, tougher division filled with up-and-coming teams, they were able to beat the Washington Capitals, New York Islanders and Boston Bruins for the division crown.

They ultimately lost in six games to the Islanders in the first round of playoffs, many of the games within just one goal.

2021 Entry Draft

The Penguins did not have a first-round pick this year, so their first selection was Tristan Broz in the second round, at 58th overall. He played for the Fargo Force in the USHL where he scored 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists) in 54 games. His offensive production continued in their playoff run, scoring 11 points over nine games.

The team did not have a third- or fourth-round selection, either, so with their fifth-round selection they took Isaac Belliveau at 154th overall. The defender played with Rimouski Océanic and Gatineau Olympiques in the QMJHL.

Their final three picks were in the seventh round where they selected Ryan McCleary (194), Daniel Laatsch (215), and Kirill Tankov (218).

Roster

Most of the core of the Penguins has not changed over recent years. Though they will be missing Crosby and Malkin to begin the season, it is likely they will be back with enough time to keep the team afloat. Crosby will miss less time than Malkin, who is recovering from a knee surgery on June 3.

But the core is more than those two forwards; Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Bryan Rust, and Guentzel are still producing for the Penguins and had a significant leadership role on the team. Guentzel was second on the team in points behind Crosby with 57 points in 56 games. Other depth players on the Penguins are veteran forwards Jason Zucker and Jeff Carter, who will help bolster the lineup.

Pittsburgh will also get more out of their depth from new additions like Brock McGinn and Danton Heinen. McGinn had six decent seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes and signed a four-year contract with the Penguins in free agency. He’s a middle of the lineup player who plays good defense and can be on the penalty kill. Heinen is a bottom-six player who played on the Anaheim Ducks last year and is a good piece to provide a little extra help in a third or fourth line.

One of the questions with the Penguins is the goaltending. Since losing Marc-Andre Fleury to the 2017 expansion draft, they have not had a consistent starting goaltender. Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been okay for the Penguins: last season, Jarry posted a .909 save percentage and 2.75 goals-against average, while DeSmith was slightly better at .912 SV% and 2.54 GAA. Though their numbers have been serviceable, no one has appeared as the clear number one, though Jarry will likely continue to get most of the starts.

Daily Faceoff has the Penguins looking like this, with a healthy Crosby and Malkin:

Forwards

Jake Guentzel — Sidney Crosby — Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker — Evgeni Malkin — Kasperi Kapanen
Brock McGinn — Jeff Carter — Danton Heinen
Zach Aston-Reese — Teddy Blueger — Evan Rodrigues

Defenders

Brian Dumoulin — Kris Letang
Michael Matheson — John Marino
Marcus Pettersson — Mark Friedman

Goaltenders

Tristan Jarry
Casey DeSmith

What can we expect in 2021-22?

Going back to the challenge that is the Metropolitan Division, the Penguins will be competing again with the Islanders and Washington Capitals. To start the season, the status of Crosby will be looked at heavily as he returns from wrist surgery. He is likely to miss Opening Night, along with Malkin who is out with a knee injury. This will be a factor, but how much of one will depend on the depth they have established. They can move Carter to fill in one of the center spots left open by Crosby and Malkin, and the scoring can be filled by other players.

The Sharks will make their way to Pittsburgh on January 2, 2022 to start a four-game road trip and see the Penguins again two weeks later when they come to SAP Center on January 15.