As part of NHL.com’s 31 in 31 series, the fantasy hockey staff identifies relevant players from each team for 2018-19. Today, we look at Pittsburgh Penguins players, listed in order of rank in NHL.com’s top 250. For more fantasy coverage, visit NHL.com/Fantasy.
[Penguins 31 IN 31: Season preview | 3 Questions | Top prospects | Behind the Numbers | NHL.com/Fantasy]
Sidney Crosby, C (NHL.com rank: 3) — Consistently a top-five fantasy player in all formats, Crosby, 31, finished third on the Penguins with 89 points (10th in NHL) in 82 games last season, behind center Evgeni Malkin (98) and right wing Phil Kessel (92). Crosby leads active NHL players in career points per game (1.29) and is an elite passer with immense value on the power play (38 power-play points last season, T-3rd in NHL). Considering Crosby regressed from 44 goals in 2016-17 to 29 last season and still finished 12th overall in Yahoo, it’s realistic to think he can improve upon his production. He’s ranked third overall behind Washington Capitals forward left wing Alex Ovechkin and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid.
Video: [email protected], Gm6: Crosby buries juicy rebound to tie it
Evgeni Malkin, C (6) — The 32-year-old ranked fourth in the NHL last season with 98 points (42 goals, 56 assists) in 78 games, his highest point total since winning the Art Ross Trophy with 109 in 2011-12. He overcame previous injury concerns by playing 78 games last season, his highest total since 2008-09, and led the Penguins in goals, points, game-winning goals (seven) and shooting percentage (17.6 percent). He plays with Crosby on the power play (38 PPP last season) and usually brings exposure to either Kessel or right wing Patric Hornqvist at even strength, making him a safe pick among the top 10 overall.
Video: [email protected], Gm4: Malkin dives to jam in PPG for lead
Phil Kessel, RW (34) — Despite playing on Pittsburgh’s third line down the stretch and in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the 30-year-old set NHL career highs in assists (58), points (92) and PPP (42) last season. Even if Kessel remains on the third line, he likely would play with center Derick Brassard and be extremely valuable for PPP, shots on goal (261) and durability; Kessel hasn’t missed a game in eight straight seasons (692 consecutive games). With team security and high-end power-play exposure at the very least, Kessel is a safe bet for 75-80 points and is worth drafting in the late second or early third round.
Video: [email protected], Gm4: Kessel goes five-hole on Elliott
Patric Hornqvist, RW (52) — The 31-year-old led Pittsburgh with 15 power-play goals and had an NHL career-high 22 PPP last season playing mostly on the first unit. Usually on either the first line with Crosby or second with Malkin, Hornqvist finished tied for second on the Penguins (with Crosby) in SOG (247), led their forwards in blocks (64) and is now a fringe top-50 overall player with hits (137 last season; 1.5 per game in NHL career) becoming a standard category.
Video: [email protected]: Hornqvist finishes passing sequence for PPG
Matt Murray, G (56) — In his first season as the clear No. 1 starter, the 24-year-old was inconsistent and missed significant time. Limited to 49 games (45 starts) because of injury and a personal leave, Murray went 27-16-3 but had weak peripherals (2.92 goals-against average, .907 save percentage, one shutout). He particularly struggled after returning from a concussion late in the season, going 4-3-1 with a 3.38 GAA and .898 SV% in his final eight starts. But provided Murray is healthy, he’s in line for a bounce-back season, especially with Pittsburgh having room for improvement in even-strength shooting percentage (7.2; tied for sixth-worst in NHL). It’s not unrealistic to expect at least 35 wins from Murray this season, meaning he’s a potential steal if available outside the top 50 overall.
Video: [email protected], Gm4: Murray slides across to deny Carlson
Kris Letang, D (81) — After missing half of the 2016-17 season because of a neck injury, the 31-year-old finished among Yahoo’s top 100 (97th) with 51 points (nine goals, 42 assists) in 79 games. An offensive threat from the point on the Penguins’ first power-play unit, Letang led their defensemen in PPP (20) and ranked fifth among their skaters in SOG (222). He has one of the highest floors among fantasy defensemen and could realistically return to his 2015-16 form (67 points in 71 games) with elite category coverage to exceed his middle-round draft projection.
Video: [email protected], Gm2: Letang nets long-range wrist shot
Jake Guentzel, LW (104)** — The 23-year-old has yet to reach his fantasy potential over a full regular season, but still carries high upside in middle rounds after scoring the most goals in the NHL over the past two postseasons (23 in 37 games). Playing mostly on the top line with Crosby and on the second power-play unit, Guentzel had 48 points (22 goals, 26 assists) and 12 PPP in 82 games last season. A reliable hits producer (142; 1.7 per game in NHL career), Guentzel is a breakout candidate who can be safely projected for 55-60 points this season.
Video: [email protected], Gm3: Guentzel deflects puck by Holtby
Other players with fantasy upside in late rounds or off waiver wire: Derick Brassard, C (195)*, Justin Schultz, D (215), Daniel Sprong, RW (220); Casey DeSmith, G*
*Potential 2019 unrestricted free agent
**Potential 2019 restricted free agent