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Features

Adding Kessel to core group gives Penguins optimism

Sunday, 08.16.2015 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2015-16

Wes Crosby - NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins struggled down the stretch last season before earning the final Stanley Cup Playoffs berth from the Eastern Conference. They are shooting a lot higher this season.

The Penguins led the Metropolitan Division for much of last season before fading and needing to defeat the last-place Buffalo Sabres on the final night of the regular season. But with a returning core of forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, defenseman Kris Letang, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, plus newcomer Phil Kessel, the Penguins are expecting to return to the top of the conference in Mike Johnston's second season as coach.

Here are four reasons for the Penguins to be optimistic:

Pouliot, Sundqvist among Penguins' top 5 prospects

Sunday, 08.16.2015 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2015-16

Wes Crosby - NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have had a long list of highly touted defensemen prospects for several seasons. The time has finally come for those prospects to become integral pieces on Pittsburgh's blue line.

Defenseman Derrick Pouliot is a lock to make Pittsburgh's opening-night roster and could be a top-four defenseman. Defenseman Brian Dumoulin will make a run at a full-time job after sporadic NHL stints the past two seasons.

With the Penguins' prospects maturing, Pittsburgh's defensive future is now.

Here is a look at the Penguins' top five prospects, according to NHL.com:

Kessel fit, defense among key questions for Penguins

Sunday, 08.16.2015 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2015-16

Wes Crosby - NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- After limping into the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and exiting after five games, the Pittsburgh Penguins made significant additions during the offseason with the goal of retooling for another Stanley Cup run.

The Penguins attempted to bolster their faltering offense through trades and free agent acquisitions, but all that attention could have been to the detriment of their defense. New forwards Phil Kessel, Eric Fehr and Nick Bonino are expected to improve an offense that averaged 1.61 regulation goals during its final 18 games of the regular season.

Pittsburgh expects to be better in 2015-16, but here are three questions the Penguins must answer for that to happen:

With Kessel, Penguins primed for longer playoff run

Sunday, 08.16.2015 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2015-16

Wes Crosby - NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins' hopes of a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs were undone by an uncharacteristically sluggish offense.

General manager Jim Rutherford sought to rectify that during the offseason.

After seeing several Penguins, including veteran defenseman Paul Martin, sign elsewhere shortly after free agency opened at noon on July 1, Pittsburgh made arguably the day's most explosive move when it acquired Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel in a trade shortly before 2 p.m.

After being eliminated in five games by the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference First Round, Rutherford said he would bring in at least one top-six wing, most likely by trade, to help Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

"We set out this offseason to add some more skill on the wing, some more speed," Rutherford said. "I certainly think we covered that."

Pittsburgh Penguins fantasy hockey outlook

Matt Cubeta - NHL.com Fantasy Insider

As part of NHL.com's offseason 30 in 30 package, fantasy hockey insiders Matt Cubeta and Pete Jensen will break down each team's fantasy landscape. They will look at the players at the top of the ranks, an undervalued player, an overvalued player, a deep sleeper (players likely ranked outside the top 200 overall players) and the goalie outlook for each NHL team.

Leading the way: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin

Crosby is the No. 2 fantasy player in my offseason rankings behind Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin. The difference between Crosby and Ovechkin in fantasy is simple. Ovechkin has stayed healthy over his career and he's a shooter and a scorer, and that carries more value in fantasy leagues. The Russian sniper finished as the top player in Yahoo leagues last season while Crosby finished fifth. Sure, Crosby had three more points than Ovechkin, but Ovechkin had 25 more goals and 158 more shots. Ovechkin is also a wing, which helps his fantasy value even more considering the immense depth at the center position.

Regardless, Crosby still remains one of fantasy hockey's best players and has the highest ceiling for point production of any player in the game. He's the only player since 2006 with five seasons of at least 100 points and his career 1.36 points-per-game are far and away the best in the League. Meanwhile, Malkin ranks eighth in my offseason rankings but has the potential to be the top fantasy player if he can avoid injury. His 1.20 points-per-game in his career are second to Crosby. Malkin has the ability to help fantasy owners in all categories and is a surefire first-round draft pick in all fantasy leagues. Taking him as high as third isn't out of the question, but there is some risk that early because of his constant injury problems.

Deep, young, competitive roster has Flames optimistic

Saturday, 08.15.2015 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2015-16

Aaron Vickers - NHL.com Correspondent

CALGARY -- The Calgary Flames made surprising strides in the second year of a rebuild, including a 10-win, 20-point increase in the standings.

The Flames went from 27th in the NHL to third in the Pacific Division in one season, and qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009. They defeated the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference First Round to win a series for the first time since 2004.

"It was nice what we accomplished last year," Flames general manager Brad Treliving said. "We prefer to look through the windshield and not the rearview mirror. What's in front of us is a great challenge, but I think our guys embraced it in making sure they're prepared for that. We need our young players, but we need our veteran players to continue to take steps forward for us to have success."

The Flames' rebuild began when they traded Jarome Iginla, the longtime face of the franchise, before the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline, and in less than three seasons they've become a playoff threat.

Here are four reasons for the Flames to be optimistic:

Bennett, Poirier among Flames' top five prospects

Saturday, 08.15.2015 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2015-16

Aaron Vickers - NHL.com Correspondent

CALGARY -- The NHL Draft certainly aided the rebuild of the Calgary Flames.

Two of Calgary's top three scorers last season, forwards Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, were drafted by the Flames. At 20 and 22, respectively, they are part of a core that helped the retooling franchise win a Stanley Cup Playoff series for the first time since 2004.

But they're far from the only young talent in the Flames system. Calgary has been stockpiling prospects who could have an impact as soon as this season.

Here is a look at the Flames' top five prospects, according to NHL.com:

Flames expect internal upside will sustain success

Saturday, 08.15.2015 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2015-16

Aaron Vickers - NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

CALGARY -- A 20-point increase in the NHL standings -- the biggest jump among teams in the Western Conference -- and a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 2009 signifies progress, but the Calgary Flames aren't satisfied.

"What we're trying to be is a championship team," general manager Brad Treliving said. "We're trying to build a team that has a chance to have long-term success here. ... There's one team at the end of the year that's happy with what they've accomplished. The rest of us are still striving to take steps forward. That's the mode we're in.

"I don't really focus in on rebuilds and what stage of the rebuild. This is about getting better and becoming a good team on a regular basis for a long time. That's the challenge for us."

Flames facing questions about possible regression

Saturday, 08.15.2015 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2015-16

Aaron Vickers - NHL.com Correspondent

CALGARY -- The Calgary Flames were among the bigger surprises in the NHL last season.

In the second full season of a rebuild, the Flames advanced to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in six years and escaped the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time since winning the Cup in 1989.

With last season's successes come heightened expectations this season.

"The message for our group is no different from last year when we said nobody is expecting a lot from us, we can't pay much attention to it," Flames general manager Brad Treliving said. "The same has to hold true where people after last year may say the expectations have risen and the outside expectation for where this group will be is probably a lot different from a year ago."

Here are three questions facing the Flames this season:

Calgary Flames fantasy hockey outlook

Saturday, 08.15.2015 / 3:00 AM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

Pete Jensen - NHL.com Fantasy Insider

As part of NHL.com's offseason 30 in 30 package, fantasy hockey insiders Matt Cubeta and Pete Jensen will break down each team's fantasy landscape. They will look at the players at the top of the ranks, an undervalued player, an overvalued player, a deep sleeper (players likely ranked outside the top 200 overall players) and the goalie outlook for each NHL team.

Leading the way: Mark Giordano and Johnny Gaudreau

When healthy, Giordano belongs among the top five fantasy defensemen. During the past two seasons, Giordano has missed 39 games but also has posted .76 points per game, second among defensemen behind Erik Karlsson (.85). He's a possession force who covers rating, penalty minutes and shots on goal. Giordano is coming off a season-ending biceps injury and will share offensive responsibilities with Dougie Hamilton, but Giordano is entering a contract year and is an elite-level starting point for your blue line in the fourth or fifth round.

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