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31 in 31

Inside look at Pittsburgh Penguins

Counting on bounce-back season from Malkin, roster adjustments for another run at Stanley Cup

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

31 in 31: Pittsburgh Penguins

31 in 31: Pittsburgh Penguins 2019-20 season preview

NHL.com's Dan Rosen and NHL Network's Mike Johnson discuss the biggest questions facing the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 2019-20 season

  • 05:12 •

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospects and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The new-look Pittsburgh Penguins are trying to win the Stanley Cup for the third time in five seasons.

 

[Penguins 31 IN 31: 3 Questions | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]

 

To have a chance to do so, they will need to replace forward Phil Kessel and his offensive production. The Penguins traded Kessel, who had 303 points (110 goals, 193 assists) during his four seasons in Pittsburgh, to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph on June 29, two weeks after trading defenseman Olli Maatta to the Chicago Blackhawks for Dominik Kahun, a 24-year-old forward.

Pittsburgh is confident adding Galchenyuk and Kahun to a roster that still has defenseman Kris Letang and centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could minimize the impact of losing Kessel, who turns 32 on Oct. 3.

Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: Crosby

"We've changed the makeup of our team," Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said. "Now it's training camp and the time where the coach (Mike Sullivan) will have to work hard to put it all together."

That message of putting it all together permeated throughout the offseason after the Penguins finished third in the Metropolitan Division (44-26-12) and were swept by the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

On April 18, Rutherford questioned if the players who won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017 had become content. After signing a four-year contract extension July 5, Sullivan said he thought Pittsburgh lacked the chemistry of those two championship teams. 

"We just felt that as a group, we didn't come together the way we should have or could have in order to maximize the potential of our group," Sullivan said. "It's not any one person or two people's fault. It's the responsibility of everybody involved to make sure that they're making a positive contribution in that regard."

Video: Top five plays of 2018-19: Galchenyuk

Sullivan included himself among those deserving blame for any dysfunction and said he wants to ensure the Penguins play more cohesively this season.

One of Sullivan's first priorities was to meet with Malkin, who was frustrated with his 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists), minus-25 rating and 89 penalty minutes last season. The 33-year-old, entering his 14th NHL season, was able to air his grievances to Sullivan over lunch.

If Malkin returns to form, Pittsburgh could again have one of the best one-two center combinations in the NHL.

"I know [Malkin] is excited about coming back to training camp and helping this team win," Sullivan said. "I think the specifics of the conversation we'll keep between [Malkin] and I, but certainly, we're very much on the same page as far as how we're going to go moving forward and how he can help this team win. 

"He's an elite player. He'll continue to be an elite player in this league. He's been one of the best players of his generation, and he'll continue to be that for us. ... It was important for [Malkin] and I to have that conversation. I believe it went really well."

Other than solving some internal chemistry issues, the Penguins are paying more attention to adjusting their style of play without completely abandoning what has brought them recent success. They wanted to add more grit, so they signed forward Brandon Tanev to a six-year contract July 1. Rutherford said the 27-year-old would make Pittsburgh harder to play against but wouldn't detract from its skill.

"I think there's a great opportunity to step in and play a certain role in this organization's lineup," said Tanev, who had 29 points (14 goals, 15 assists) in 80 games for the Winnipeg Jets last season. "That being said, I'll look to expand on other parts of my game, but at the same time, continue to play the game that makes me successful to my team and helping them go out there every night and fight for two points."

Video: WPG@STL, Gm3: Copp's pass goes in off Tanev's skate

Part of helping the Penguins compete is the ability to keep up with speedy forwards like Crosby, Malkin and Jake Guentzel. Most likely a part of the bottom-six forward group this season, Tanev probably won't play with any of the three, but Galchenyuk might be on the second line with Malkin. 

And despite the critical outlook from management entering this offseason, the 25-year-old's perception of the Penguins hasn't changed from when they won the second of their back-to-back championships in 2017.

"You look at the centers that this team has, top centers in the League, no doubt," said Galchenyuk, who had 41 points (19 goals, 22 assists) in 72 games with the Coyotes last season. "Whether it's the right or the left side, I'm sure I'll definitely adapt pretty well."

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