Its been well-documented that Sidney Crosby doesn’t have an official right winger.
Fortunately for the Pittsburgh Penguins, they’ll have Beau Bennett and Pascal Dupuis presumably healthy at the start of next season, and they’ve added a few other right wingers – Steve Downie, Patric Hornqvist. So, head coach Mike Johnston will certainly have a pool to choose from.
The only thing left to do is pinpoint Crosby’s other winger.
We know Chris Kunitz will be on the captain’s left, but is it a smart idea to put Downie on the right? Sounds like a bad plan at face value, given Bennett and Hornqvist’s scoring ability, however, Downie’s prior experience playing on the top-line with superstars may work in his favor.
Totaling 46 points (22G, 24A) back in 2009-10 for the Tampa Bay Lightning – the most Downie’s ever recorded in a season – he skated alongside Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Who was the coach of that team? Rick Tocchet – who’s now an assistant coach for Pittsburgh. If Downie has Tocchet’s tutelage and the NHL’s best facilitator at his disposal (Crosby), why not give him a chance with top-line duties?
If Downie’s on the top, Evgeni Malkin can have Hornqvist slot in as his right wing, and Bennett can return to being on the second-line, but as a left winger. For as much as ex-Pens’ coach Dan Bylsma tried to integrate Bennett with Crosby, it just didn’t work. However, Bennett’s had success playing alongside Malkin, so he may be better off on the second anyway. Dupuis is in no way, shape or form able to play on the top-line, considering he’s coming off ACL/MCL surgery.
One of the biggest reasons Downie was signed is because he’s tough as nails – he adds a boatload of grit. Grit seems to be what every team longs for, and it couldn’t be more needy with Pittsburgh. Especially for Crosby’s line. Should the captain manage to find himself in a frustrating situation, Downie is the type of player who’ll keep him at bay.
As it stands, Pittsburgh has quite a few right wingers: Craig Adams, Bennett, Downie, Dupuis, and Hornqvist – all of which are projected to start. Given Bennett’s flipped around before, it makes sense for him to play Malkin’s left wing; Adams is going to be the fourth-line’s right winger; Dupuis will find himself getting acquainted with Brandon Sutter on the third; and Hornqvist, as I said earlier, will make a great fake James Neal partner with Malkin. Leaving Downie on the top.
This way, the Penguins can have some balance to their lineup – something they weren’t able to manage last season. And while the team can clearly put Bennett on the top, it just makes sense for composition purposes that Downie is there instead.
You want to maximize Downie’s value, and the only way to do that is to place him with Crosby. Obviously, there’ll take some getting use to, but the potential of a ’09-10 Downie is evident.
Can’t go wrong with Hornqvist being Crosby’s right winger either.
Tags: Pittsburgh Penguins