There are plenty of bad things that could be said about the Pittsburgh Penguins. They had a very disappointing season, they missed the playoffs for the first time in 16 years and have had an incompetent front office for the better part of two years. Fans were frustrated for most of the season, and once the team was officially out of the playoff race it felt like the last nail in the coffin.
Even though there was no playoff hockey in Pittsburgh this year, there are still plenty of reasons to be hopeful for next season. The Penguins’ top six performed at a high level all year and for the most part will remain intact. Perhaps the biggest beacon of hope is the promise of new leadership that will no doubt add some depth to the roster and make some changes with the goaltending. Here are some positive things the Penguins can build off of during the offseason.
Ron Hextall is no longer the boss in Pittsburgh, however the Penguins are still feeling the effects of his many bad decisions. If he did anything positive for the franchise it was bringing Rickard Rakell to the team. He was one of the most consistent players on the roster this year. He played in 82 games and scored 28 goals with 32 assists for a total of 60 points.
One of the things that make him so valuable is that he is not just good at scoring goals. He makes everyone that he plays with better. He shined the most this season when he was on the top line with captain Sidney Crosby, but even when he got moved down to the third line with Mikael Granlund he still made the most of it. Trading for Granlund was one of the many bad decisions made by the Hextall regime. He played in 21 games this season and scored only one goal in the Penguins’ 5-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on March 11. It should not be a surprise that his most productive game came when Rakell was moved down to his line. He is a fantastic playmaker who seems to excel in every area of the game.
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There is one area specifically that the Penguins need to get Rakell more involved in and that is the power play. Pittsburgh has struggled on the power play since the departure of forward Phil Kessel, and it is a huge weakness in their game that has to improve next season. He has a booming shot from the left wall and his clean, sharp passes make him a dangerous threat for any penalty kill unit. He also sees the ice well and is constantly moving in the offensive zone. The Penguins should completely rebuild their power play this offseason to center around him.
The Penguins re-signed forward Alex Nylander to a one-year extension on April 29. Nylander only played in nine games this season and scored one goal and one assist. There is a definite possibility he could have contributed more if given the opportunity. He was good at breaking up odd-man rushes and played well in the defensive zone. He has good speed and if given a full opportunity should be a solid depth player next season.
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The Penguins were not a bad team this season, they just had a few missing pieces. They have already started working on their bottom six by signing Nylander. Another area of focus during the offseason will be goaltending. Of course, the first order of business is bringing in a new front office who understands the modern game and will set this team up for success. Pittsburgh will be one of the most intriguing teams to pay attention to this summer as they try to get ready to chase another championship in 2023-24.
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