January 16, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) and center Sidney Crosby (87) and left wing Chris Kunitz (14) celebrate a goal by Letang during the second period of the Penguins intrasquad scrimmage at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins Should Have These Five Players For Top Power-Play Duties

While everybody scrambles to figure out who will occupy the 12 forward spots, and where they’ll slot, there’s still the obstacle of figuring out their five players on the power-play.

Now that James Neal is in Nashville and Matt Niskanen is in Washington, there’s uncertainties as to who will be on the Pens’ top unit for the man-advantage.

Yes, we can all jot down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for power-play duties, and it’s safe to say Chris Kunitz will be the bulldog in front of the net. But who will man the points?

Kris Letang, for most of his time over recent seasons, has been the quarterback on the Pens’ power-play; however, due to various health issues last season, was demoted to the second unit, and Paul Martin took over at Letang’s spot. Niskanen had also proved worthy of keeping his right-handed rocket of a shot on the Pens’ top group.

It’s really unclear as to what new head coach Mike Johnston will do, considering he has yet to see the players up close in action. And, to start the season, he may very well just keep all the pairings/power-play similar to last season, at least for the beginning. Yet, despite Martin’s strong puck possession style, I’m not so sure he’s fit for a top power-play role.

Instead, if I were Johnston, Christian Ehrhoff has to be a fixture on that first power-play set, rather than Martin.

Ehrhoff, when on the Vancouver Canucks, absolutely thrived. And Vancouver had no shortage of stars when he was rostered – Ryan Kesler, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, etc. Now in Pittsburgh, and not the cellar-dwelling Sabres, Ehrhoff could rekindle the type of production he posted with the Canucks. And his left-handed missile shot may be the missing link.

Letang, now that he’s entering the 2014-15 campaign fully healthy – as far as we know – he’s going to receive his old job back, and having Ehrhoff with him could bode well for the Pens’ power-play.

As most Pens’ fans know, Letang’s had a bit of an issue with turning the puck over at the most inopportune times, and Ehrhoff is more of a possession-type defenseman. Plus, it’s best to have two defensemen on the power-play in general, and given Ehrhoff and Letang both have a man-advantage pedigree with opposite shots, the experiment will be a juicy result.

When it’s all said-and-done, this is how the power-play should look:

  • Crosby and Malkin at the hashmarks
  • Kunitz in front
  • Ehrhoff and Letang up top

People may have rushed to conclusions, suggesting that because Niskanen meant so much to Pittsburgh in various categories that his return was imperative. Yet, with the addition of Ehrhoff, I really don’t see a downgrade, and he was way easier to afford.

Of course, training camp and preseason will give us all a better picture as to how Pittsburgh will orchestrate their power-play. But, in analyzing the best man-advantage players and offensive skaters, these five are your picks.

I got a funny feeling Johnston will seriously consider Martin over Ehrhoff, and it’s a mistake. With the way Martin’s gotten injured over recent seasons, the last thing you want to do is overwork him.

Ehrhoff will be the difference maker on the power-play next season.

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