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After the Penguins played their last game of the 2023-24 season on Wednesday on Long Island - finishing the year strong but still falling short of the postseason - several players spoke during the team’s season-ending media availability on Thursday (April 18). Here are the biggest takeaways from those conversations.

Sidney Crosby

After a remarkable season that is tied for the most productive year by a 36-year-old in NHL history with 42 goals and 94 points, the captain said he “feels pretty good” – adding with a wry grin, “as far as the body goes, it doesn’t get any easier. But I think relative to a full season and our schedule, it’s always pretty busy, March and down the stretch. But this was even more so than other years, I feel like. We handled that well."

Now, the questions about a contract extension have already begun, as the captain’s current deal runs through 2024-25. Crosby said he plans to speak with Penguins President of Hockey Operations and GM Kyle Dubas about signing an extension. “Obviously, I’m going to talk to Kyle and have a conversation with him,” he said. “We’ll see. I think it’s just something that I’ll have conversations with him about.”

Crosby speaks to the media.

Kris Letang

Mike Sullivan said that the 36-year-old defenseman was dealing with a “myriad” of injuries down the stretch, and that he’s a warrior, saying “there's no other way to put it, with some of the things that he was dealing with down the stretch and continuing to play through to try to help us get to where we want to go.”

The injuries made it difficult for Letang to maintain consistency after a first half where Sullivan called him the team’s best defenseman. “(My season) was a rollercoaster, kind of the same thing as the team,” Letang said. “It went well, hit some dips, got better. But consistency was an issue.”

Letang speaks to the media.

Bryan Rust

The 31-year-old winger established a new career high with 28 goals and finished two shy of his career high in points with 56, despite playing in only 62 games.

"Myself and my own game, I was happy with my game. I thought it was good this season,” he said. “Didn't have the season last year that I would've liked (with 20 goals in 82 games), and I tried to work really hard over the summer to get better, help this team win again. I played better, but obviously, didn't do enough to help this team win again, which is the unfortunate part. Obviously, being hurt, whatever, how many games I missed, didn't really help the equation either."

Rust speaks to the media.

Tristan Jarry

After handling the bulk of the starts for most of the season, the netminder took a supporting role as Alex Nedeljkovic got the nod in 13 straight games to finish the year. He acknowledged that was a difficult period for him personally, “as you obviously want to be out there and you want to be battling with them, and you want to be a part of it. I think the best thing that I could do in that situation was just be a good teammate, help Ned as much as I could, and he did a great job. He won us a lot of games, and he put us in a really good position, and ultimately he gave us a chance at the end.”

Looking at his year as a whole, where Jarry finished one win shy of his fifth-consecutive 20-win season after signing a five-year contract extension last summer, he felt pretty good about the body of work he put together. “There's some stretches that I thought could be better, and there are some stretches to learn from, obviously,” he said. “But I think that I had a pretty good year. I was healthy the whole year. I was able to be available for every game. So I think that was a step in the right direction and growing.”

Full story to come on the goalies in the coming days.

Jarry speaks to the media.

Alex Nedeljkovic

He played terrific down the stretch, picking up points in 11 of 12 games as the Penguins battled until the night before the season finale to make the playoffs. He accomplished his goal of re-establishing himself at the NHL level after a couple of bumpy seasons in Detroit.

“It was just good to play games, and get back into a rhythm and felt like myself,” Nedeljkovic said. “I've mentioned a couple of times that just being myself, and being able to play free, and having fun with it has gone a long way. Chico (goalie coach Andy Chiodo) has done a great job of helping me with all that. So, I think it was a fine season. I think there were definitely times that we can look back on and say, ‘I want a couple of goals back’ or ‘I could have been a little bit sharper in games.’ So it kind of goes hand-in-hand with how the season went as a whole for the group.

Nedeljkovic is set to become an unrestricted free agent, having signed a one-year deal last July. He said the fantastic chemistry on and off the ice amongst this group makes him want to come back, if the situation allows it.

“I think if you've got good chemistry, good relationships with everybody, it's really easy to want to play for the guy next to you and have fun and come to the rink and be excited about coming to the rink. So yeah, I'd love to come back,” he said. “I'd love to be back in a Penguins’ sweater and pick up where we left off this year. We left off on a high note, we've played some good hockey lately, and it's hard to not want to come back and play with the guys that you have in this room.”

Full story to come on the goalies in the coming days.

Nedeljkovic speaks to the media.

Erik Karlsson

The 2022-23 Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s top defenseman finished with 11 goals and 56 points, the fourth-most among defensemen in their first year with the Penguins. He got more comfortable as the year went on, and is already looking forward to the next one.

“I think everybody's already excited for that. I know I am,” Karlsson said. “It's going to be nice to just step away for a bit and reflect and try and figure out what you can do to move forward and be better as a player and better as a team. One thing I know and that I've learned over the first year here is how dedicated this organization is to be at its best and how professional everybody is. I know that everybody's going to work tirelessly to make sure that we utilize our abilities, and we play up to the standards that we know that we know that we can come next year.”

Karlsson speaks to the media.

Marcus Pettersson

The 27-year-old defenseman took on a bigger role this year and handled it well. He’s become such a key member of this D corps and a leader in the locker room, with the kindhearted Swede one of the more vocal guys amongst the group. “I think I took good steps this year to really become the player I want to be, and I still got a long way to go,” Pettersson said. “But I'm happy with my season, but for sure disappointing as a team.”

He did all of that while adjusting to fatherhood for the first time, after welcoming son Frans last February. “I think that it helped me a lot to gain some perspective on things,” he said. “I mean, you’re going to have bad games, everybody has bad games. I think it was a little easier coming home and kind of letting that go and focusing forward when you have that at home… it's been a year already and it's been a blessed year for sure, and I think that's something that I'm really proud of how I handled.”

Pettersson speaks to the media.

Rickard Rakell

After a tough start to the season injury- and production-wise, which was uncharacteristic for the goal-scoring forward, he rebounded to finish with 15 goals on the year and found chemistry on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Michael Bunting.

“Obviously, it didn't go as well as I would have liked to,” he said. “I mean, it was up and down season for me with some injuries at the start, and then, just not producing at the level I wanted. I think just that emotional level (was) affecting me too much. Just learn from that and just go back home now and have a good summer and work on my game and work on my strength and everything I can do to come back even better, or a lot better, next year.”

Rakell speaks to the media.

Michael Bunting

The forward, acquired from Carolina in the Jake Guentzel trade, wrapped up this season one goal shy of 20. The 28-year-old had 55 points (19G-36A), passing 50 for the second time in his career (63 points in 2021-22). Bunting picked up 19 points (6G-13A) in 21 games since joining the Penguins after the trade deadline.

“I think it went well,” Bunting said. “I think I came in, I wanted to have an effect on this team right away and show what I was made out of. I just wanted to come in and have an impact. So, I felt like I did that. I felt like I made a connection and chemistry with G and Raks and we kind of just ran with it once we started as a line. So, it's been a fun ride for this short period of time, and it was a lot of fun trying to chase the playoff spot as well.”

Bunting speaks to the media.

Drew O’Connor

The 25-year-old hit career highs offensively (16G-17A), while finding a home on the team’s first line alongside Sidney Crosby and Bryan Rust toward the end of the year. He played in 79 games this year, smashing his previous personal best of 46 set during the 2022-23 campaign.

“I feel good about the progress I've made kind of from last season and even the previous season, up to this point,” O’Connor said. “I think there's another level to my game, and I'm looking to continue to grow and take another step next season. So, individually, I think that I made some big steps this year, and I'm excited to kind of continue to reach my potential.”

The 6-foot-3 forward is one of Pittsburgh’s best puck pursuit guys, and using his big body to his advantage is something he wants to continue improving. “Getting a little better at the net front, finding ways to kind of score goals there and continuing to work on puck protection and making plays off the rush,” O’Connor said. “I think that it was something I got better at throughout the year, but I think there's still kind of more room for growth there. Just finding opportunities to make plays, buy time for myself when I'm skating in the zone off the rush and, you know, look to make those plays when they’re there.”

O'Connor speaks to the media.

Reilly Smith

After spending his past six seasons in Vegas and winning the Stanley Cup last year with the Golden Knights, Reilly Smith joined the Penguins via an offseason trade and finished the year with 40 points (13G-27A) in 76 games.

The five-time 20-goal scorer called it a “frustrating” season for himself personally, saying, “obviously, didn't live up to my own standard or expectation that I wanted to. So, those things are — they're hard to swallow. You have to just look into the summer and try to fix the things that didn't go your way. Thankfully, there's a long summer, and there's a lot of things that I can learn from.”

Smith speaks to the media.

Lars Eller

The veteran forward, often called an extension of the coaching staff by Mike Sullivan, concluded the first season of a two-year deal with Pittsburgh with his highest point total since the 2019-20 season (39 points).

“I can say I’m happy to be a Pittsburgh Penguin. It’s such a privilege to be in this room with these players, so it hurts not to be able to play right now,” Eller said. “It’s going to hurt probably most of the summer until there’s no more hockey being played and you can look forward to the next year. But I’m really happy to be here. I’m happy to be a Penguin and I really look forward to another crack at it next year. I think we can accomplish more with this group, so I’m happy.

“I think I did what I was brought in and what was being expected of me. I think I met those expectations in terms of that third-line center role, playing on the PK and eventually, being part of the power play, too – playing in key situations. I think I helped the team where I could help the team. I would like to continue to do that next year, as well.”

Eller speaks to the media.

Carson Gates contributed to this feature.