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31 in 31

Pittsburgh Penguins fantasy preview for 2017-18

Murray top-ranked goalie with full-time starting role; Guentzel, Sheary boom-or-bust options

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / NHL.com Senior Fantasy Editor

As part of NHL.com's 31 in 31 series, our fantasy hockey staff is breaking down each team's landscape. Fantasy-relevant players are listed in order of rank in NHL.com's top 250. Today, we look at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

 

[PENGUINS 31 IN 31: Season preview | 3 Questions | Top prospects | Behind the numbers | More team fantasy previews]

 

FORWARDS

Sidney Crosby, C -- The Pittsburgh Penguins captain leads active NHL players in points per game (1.31) and led the League in goals (44) last season despite missing seven games (six because of concussion). The 30-year-old is a close second behind Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, 20, in NHL.com's rankings, and remains as attractive a fantasy option as ever in the prime of his career after leading the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.

Evgeni Malkin, C -- The Russian forward is second behind Crosby in points per game (1.18) and finished 11th in Yahoo despite missing 20 games. Injuries remain a concern surrounding Malkin's value, especially in a head-to-head league, but the time missed didn't stop him from producing elite totals in each of the six standard categories. He had 72 points (33 goals, 39 assists) in 62 games, a 95-point pace in 82 games, and is worth a late first-round pick.

Phil Kessel, RW -- He returned value based on Yahoo average draft position (35.0; finished 23rd), playing with Malkin at even strength and on the first power-play unit. It wasn't his best season in terms of point production (70 in 82 games; 82 points in 2011-12; 80 in 2013-14 with Toronto Maple Leafs), but he set NHL career highs in assists (47; T-11th) and power-play points (30; 5th). He's one of four Penguins (Crosby, Malkin, Matt Murray) ranked among NHL.com's top 30.

Jake Guentzel, C/LW -- After leading the Stanley Cup Playoffs in goals (13) as a rookie, Guentzel boasts a high scoring rate (54 points in 65 games) at the NHL level. He has further breakout potential and is ranked in the preseason top 100, but reaching for Guentzel comes with risk because he doesn't play on the first power-play unit and could be bound for a dip in shooting percentage (19.8 in reg. season; 25.0 in postseason).

Patric Hornqvist, RW -- He spent time on each of Pittsburgh's first three lines at different points in the season, but still turned out to be a tremendous value drafted on average outside the top 100 (ADP: 117.8; finished 75th in Yahoo). He provided his trademark coverage of points (44), plus/minus (plus-16), PPP (17) and shots on goal (223), and became especially valuable in a hits league (NHL career-high 227).

Conor Sheary, LW/RW -- He finished ninth in points per 60 minutes (2.96; minimum 20 games), one of four Penguins players among the top 10 (Malkin: 3.59, 1st; Crosby: 3.30, 4th; Guentzel: 3.02, 7th). He excelled on Crosby's line in the regular season, but regressed in a depth role during the postseason (two goals, five assists in 22 games). Sheary's long-term fantasy worth is tough to gauge with little power-play time to fall back on and prospect Daniel Sprong set to compete for prime minutes. That said, possible exposure to Crosby makes Sheary worth a late-round pick (10th round or later).

Video: Guentzel breaks U.S. rookie playoff record for goals

 

DEFENSEMEN

Kris Letang (INJ.) -- Like Malkin, Letang has dealt with injuries throughout his career but is among the most productive at his position when healthy. Letang ranked fourth in points per game (0.83) among defensemen last season with 34 points (five goals, 29 assists) in 41 regular-season games. He missed the entire postseason after neck surgery April 13, but should be ready for training camp. If drafted outside the top 50 overall, Letang could be the biggest bargain among defensemen.

Justin Schultz -- He seized an expanded role in Letang's absence, going from the waiver wire in many leagues (ADP: 138.5) to 59th in Yahoo, sixth among defensemen. If Letang plays close to a full season, Schultz's production will likely decline with fewer man-advantage minutes next to Crosby, Malkin and Kessel. But Schultz didn't score an NHL career-high 51 points (12 goals, 39 assists) by accident, so expect, at least 35-40 points with a strong plus/minus.

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm7: Schultz rings in wrist shot for PPG

 

GOALTENDING

Matt Murray -- With concerns surrounding the supporting casts of Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals) and Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens), Murray has jumped to No. 1 among goalies in NHL.com's rankings. He faces concerns having already sustained multiple injuries in his young NHL career and with Antti Niemi as his backup instead of Marc-Andre Fleury. But Murray has 41 wins in 62 regular-season games, not to mention two Stanley Cup titles. Stretch his career winning percentage (.670) over 60 or more starts, and you're looking at the potential League leader in wins.

Others to consider: Daniel Sprong (RW), Antti Niemi (G), Bryan Rust (RW), Olli Maatta (D) 

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