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Pittsburgh Penguins fantasy hockey outlook

by Matt Cubeta / NHL.com

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.

PENS' FANTASY-RELEVANT PLAYERS

Below is a list of the fantasy-relevant players in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. These players have been arranged by NHL.com's fantasy staff based on projected value and by position. These players range from top-tier assets to deep sleepers and should be on your radar in standard Yahoo leagues.

FORWARDS

Sidney Crosby
Evgeni Malkin
Phil Kessel
Patric Hornqvist
Chris Kunitz
David Perron
Nick Bonino

DEFENSEMEN

Kris Letang
Olli Maatta

GOALIES

Marc-Andre Fleury

* Red indicates newcomer to team

Undervalued: Phil Kessel

Kessel had arguably the worst season of his Maple Leafs career in 2014-15, finishing with 25 goals, 61 points and a minus-34 rating. The 25 goals were the only time he finished with less than 30 during his Toronto tenure (excluding the shortened season of 2012-13 when he scored 20 in 48 games) and his minus-34 was a career-low. Although Kessel finished as the 79th ranked player in Yahoo leagues last season, none of that matters now that he's with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kessel will end up on a line with either Crosby or Malkin and has the potential to be a top 10 fantasy player this season. His 181 goals the past six seasons are fifth most and his 394 points are 15th, and he did that without playing alongside a dominant center. Forty goals seem very realistic in Pittsburgh. Add in the fact that Kessel's plus/minus will improve, and that he'll contribute loads of points on the power play, and you're looking at someone that should easily be selected among the top 15 players.

Overvalued: Chris Kunitz

For so many years Kunitz was quietly one of the most underrated players in fantasy hockey. Now 35, it appears the decline is in full swing. After finishing with 35 goals and 68 points in 2013-14, Kunitz struggled with 17 goals and 40 points in 74 games last season, including 20 points in his final 51 games. He still helped owners with 56 penalty minutes and 16 power-play points, but finishing as the 131st ranked player in Yahoo leagues wasn't close to what was expected. Kunitz has typically played on a line with Crosby over the years and though that remains a possibility this season, the uncertainty of his lineup position and the fact that his production saw such a steep decline last season are two reasons why I would avoid reaching for Kunitz on draft day.

Deep sleeper: Olli Maatta

At one point I was expecting Sergei Plotnikov to be a good sleeper pick, but with all the additions on offense, I'm not sure where his place in the lineup will be. So instead, I'll go with Maatta, who is the Penguins' clear-cut No. 2 defenseman behind Kris Letang. The 20-year-old got off to a good start last season with nine points in 20 games before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury. In limited action, Maatta averaged 1:18 of power play ice time per game, but with Paul Martin now on the San Jose Sharks, I expect Maatta to be given every opportunity to be the Penguins' quarterback on the second power-play unit. And if Letang, who's quite injury prone, were to miss any time, Maatta could play with the top group. Either way, Maatta could be a sneaky pick in the last rounds of your draft.

Goalie outlook: Marc-Andre Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff

Despite his well-known playoff struggles, Fleury continues to enjoy regular-season success and that's all that matters for fantasy owners. He won 34 games with a 2.32 goals-against average and .920 save percentage last season, which was probably the best statistical season of his career, and finished as the fourth-best fantasy goalie in Yahoo leagues. Fleury also has proven to be extremely durable and reliable throughout his career. Since 2008 (a span of seven seasons), Fleury has the second-most goalie starts (411) and most wins (246), with a 2.44 GAA and .914 save percentage. Those numbers aren't elite, but they are still very solid. If Fleury can build off last season and reach 40 wins for the third time in his career on an improved Penguins team, he is a good bet to be a top five fantasy goalie once again. Zatkoff, the expected backup, has serviceable statistics over his 21 NHL appearances, but he shouldn't be drafted in fantasy leagues.

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