Apr 9, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) breaks up ice against the Detroit Red Wings during the overtime period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 4-3 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins' Top-Six Forwards Certainly Questionable

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins hit the ice for their opening game to the 2014-15 campaign, their top-six group of forwards will look different.

Dealing James Neal to Nashville and seeing Jussi Jokinen sign with Florida this summer, there will potentially be as many as up to three new forwards on the top two lines for Pittsburgh.

One of those wingers expects to be Patric Hornqvist, and the other probably Beau Bennett – even though Bennett was on the top-six sporadically last season, it’ll be his first official go at it. They’ll both probably be with Evgeni Malkin, and then there’s the vacancy as Sidney Crosby‘s right-winger.

Pascal Dupuis has plenty of experience playing in that pairing, but he’s coming off major knee surgery, and is most likely going to be slotted on the third-line. That means the role could be auditioned between first-round prospect Kasperi Kapanen, Steve Downie, and maybe Nick Spaling.

This could happen, that could happen – you get the drift. There’s just no concrete idea of how the top-six is going to look. On one hand, you presume it’ll see the same production in large part to Crosby and Malkin still being present. But on the other, you’re recognizing that the top-six could be just what they were last season.

This is all depending on whether or not Kapanen makes the team, and if they place him with Crosby on the first-line.

If Kapanen gets the okay to play in the NHL, and skates with Crosby, the top-six will undoubtedly improve in my opinion. However, should he be left off the roster, you have to think the top-six isn’t propelled, nor declined. Just steady.

Let’s face facts, Bennett can’t stay healthy, and he’s likely the one player Malkin has the most chemistry with. And to add onto that chemistry factor, it’s really hard to tell how effective the top-six in general will truly be because of the inexperience of playing together. Yes, over the course of the season it’ll come, but it sometimes takes multiple seasons to fully develop that parallelism.

That’s what happened with Jussi Jokinen. The guy was benched, for the most part, in the 2013 playoffs, and then has himself a phenomenal season. Why? Because Jokinen got to endure a full campaign with the Pens.

Personally, I feel as though Hornqvist will be just as effective as Neal was. Maybe that’s premature to say, but I believe it wholeheartedly. What the top-six really comes down to is Bennett’s capability, and Kapanen’s presence.

Both Bennett and Kapanen are going to be the difference-makers. They’re the keys to the top-six being better than last season. So, I guess you can say I’m pulling for the coaching staff to keep Kapanen.

Hey, if Olli Maatta can put up the numbers he did as a second-pair, rookie defenseman, can you imagine what Kapanen could do as a top-line winger to Crosby?

Food for thought.

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