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2022-23 Fantasy Hockey Outlook: Pittsburgh Penguins

Bad team or bad luck? The Penguins have brought everyone back following an early playoff exit. Can Sidney Crosby bring the Pens - and your fantasy team - back to the promised land?

The fantasy season is upon us. Another year of tears of joy and heartbreak.

To help you along, here’s your fantasy outlook for the Pittsburgh Penguins:

2022-23 Fantasy Hockey Outlook: Pittsburgh Penguins

Last season: 46-25-11, 3rd Metro, 12th overall. GF: 11th, GA: 5th, PP: 19th, PK: 3rd.

Had the Penguins finished off the Rangers after holding a 3-1 series lead, would they have gone as far in the playoffs? Hypothetical questions can be a waste but it’s worth pondering because the Pens were actually really good. Mike Sullivan did a masterful job of coaching – how he’s never even been a finalist for the Jack Adams is baffling – and they overcame a bunch of injury troubles to finish third in a tough division. They ranked in the top 10 in both 5v5 CF% and 5v5 xGF%, according to naturalstattrick.com, and defensively were very difficult to score against. Tristan Jarry really deserves more credit; he ranked third among goalies with at least 200 minutes on the penalty kill with a .914 Sv%, trailing only Igor Shesterkin and James Reimer.

They were kind of streaky, including six- and eight-game winning streaks, but they didn’t have any glaring holes when they were healthy. Sidney Crosby was 34 years old and had one of his finest seasons, Kris Letang has now only missed five games over the past two seasons and Jarry is one of the top under-the-radar good goalies in the league. It is ironic and amusing, though, that the Pens’ second-biggest nightmare in the playoffs behind Igor Shesterkin was Louis Domingue, and for completely opposite reasons, but the Rangers now employ both. I am also pretty sure Crosby has banned spicy pork and broccoli in the arena.

Their first-round exit seemed abrupt and tragic, and the Penguins had a good reason to head in another direction. Instead, they're doubling down on the Crosby-Malkin-Letang era, knowing that this is still their best chance at winning. 

Best fantasy option: Jake Guentzel, LW

Crosby plays at a pretty deep position and remains an excellent first-round fantasy choice, but I also wanted to highlight Guentzel, who’s probably the best goal scorer no one puts in the elite tier. Guentzel has been on pace to score at least 40 goals in three of his past four seasons. He ranks 21st in P/GP at 1.03 during that span, just a shade below Alex Ovechkin (1.06) and better than both Kyle Connor (0.98) and Chris Kreider (0.75), all of whom are getting drafted higher according to Yahoo’s ADP. His increased volume of shooting, finishing 15th in the league with 264 shots, has added even more fantasy value, both THN’s Pool Guide and BetMGM’s over/under points has Guentzel finishing within at least one point of Crosby for the team lead. Guentzel is not a reach in the early rounds and a career season is potentially coming if the Pens are healthy all season.

Hidden gem: Rickard Rakell, LW/RW

The expectation is that the Pens will opt to keep Bryan Rust with Guentzel and Crosby, but it should be noted that Rakell with Guentzel and Crosby had a 58.46 5v5 CF% last season and generated 75 shot attempts per 60 minutes. That, compared to their numbers with Rust: 51.88 5v5 CF% and 64 shot attempts per 60 minutes. In other words, the right wing slot on Guentzel and Crosby’s line will be a very lucrative spot, and while Rust is the incumbent, Rakell’s fantasy value gets a huge boost if he can supplant him. Rust with Evgeni Malkin can be a good combo in its own right, and perhaps there is a chance the Pens do so to balance out their offense. It’s still a very top-heavy group after Evan Rodrigues was not brought back and Sullivan will likely lean on them very often. Rakell was once a 30-goal player for the ducks and he may regain his form this season.

Goalies: 

As noted above, Jarry’s underrated and the Pens will be good. Adding Jeff Petry and Jan Rutta will help in their defensive end. Casey DeSmith is a capable backup but not a threat to steal Jarry’s job, so drafting both won’t be necessary. In my rankings, I had Jarry just outside the top five because he’s proven his ability and plays on a team that could win many games. For fantasy managers, it’s okay if all the elite goalies off the board because there aren’t many of them, but once Jarry’s picked, that’s the signal to start looking at goalies to make sure you don’t lose your chance of getting someone dependable. It won’t add years to your life but it certainly won’t shave any like Sergei Bobrovsky or Jordan Binnington.

Outlook: 

If Malkin can stay healthy, he’s still an elite player who can score at a point-per-game pace. Along with Crosby, Guentzel and Letang, they are the premium fantasy options the Pens have to offer. Rust and Rakell should be very good top-six wingers, but where the Pens might run into trouble is their bottom-six. Jeff Carter needs another productive season, Jason Zucker needs to stay healthy, and one of their young players needs to perform above expectations.

Petry can be a good pick because he can score 40 points and add a lot of peripheral stats, and he’ll likely play a ton of minutes even though he’s a right-hand shot like Letang. The Pens should prove plenty of options, with THN’s Pool Guide projecting four forwards to score over 60 points, Letang finishing with 56, and then Rakell, Carter and Kasperi Kapanen projected to score around 40 each. 

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