What could a realistic Penguins lineup look like entering the playoffs?

Jason Zucker #16 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Jason Zucker #16 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Penguins will without a doubt make a move or two before the NHL trade deadline, what would an ideal lineup look like once the deadline passes?

All Penguins fans want the Pens to roll out the best lineup in the NHL, and that’s what every fan should want, but it’s just not going to happen this season.

It’s likely the Penguins will not move one of Samuel Poulin or Nathan Legare, the top prospects in the system, for a top deadline deal this season, and with only a second, fifth and three seventh round picks this year, the already bare cupboard is basically empty.

So, what you see is basically what you get for the Penguins this season. And that’s fine.

There is a solid foundation in place for the Penguins right now, but the Pens could use a couple of forwards to truly fill out the lineup. However, just because the Pens want something doesn’t mean they’re going to get it.

The Penguins aren’t going to enter the playoffs — if they can keep up this pace that is — with a perfect lineup. There are going to be some holes. But they could still make some noise.

A solid foundation of forwards

With Evgeni Malkin, Teddy Blueger, Jason Zucker and Brandon Tanev currently dealing with injuries, the Penguins were potentially looking down a long, uncomfortable finish to the season.

I don’t know if you can really call it luck, but it appears the Pens dodged a bullet with the severity. Malkin is only “week-to-week” and expected to return to the lineup. With Blueger and Zucker expected to return at some point this season, and Tanev only “day-to-day”, the Pens have reinforcements in the wings.

The top six is pretty steady. Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, Kasperi Kapanen and Malkin hold down five spots. The left wing on Malkin’s line creates a bit of a dilemma.

In an ideal world, Jason Zucker would return from injury and regain his spot on the wing and play better hockey than he had early in the season. An inspired Geno would most likely help with that. Now, they’re both injured.

A popular solution to the lack of chemistry between Malkin and Zucker has been moving Zucker to a pseudo-second line with a mystery center and Jared McCann. A la Phil Kessel and the HBK line. However, there doesn’t appear to be a fit the Penguins can move for to throw in as the third line pivot. Players like Buffalo’s Eric Staal and Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf have been linked, but would the Penguins gamble on an aging rental? It seems unlikely.

More from Pens Labyrinth

If the Penguins were to add a new 2B/3A line, the current line of Zach Aston-Reese, Blueger and Tanev would be shunted to the fourth line. While they would be the best fourth line in the league, is giving them less ice time the best solution right now?

The most likely solution is to upgrade the fourth line. Sam Lafferty and Mark Jankowski just aren’t cutting it, that much is especially evident with the pair receiving more ice time in wake of the injury issues. Frederick Gaudreau has played well in limited minutes this season, but a fourth line center seems to be the easiest fix for the Pens.

While it may not be the best use of their talents, Evan Rodrigues and Jared McCann would be more talent than a fourth line center could hope for. Both are capable of playing up and down the lineup while providing solid offensive production. So, if Gaudreau isn’t going to center them, who is?

Someone like Nashville’s Mikael Granlund or Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart would be intriguing acquisitions for the Penguins, but someone like Nashville’s Nick Cousins or Detroit’s Luke Glendening could be a perfect fourth line fit.

So, let’s take a look at the forwards:

Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust

Jason Zucker – Evgeni Malkin – Kasperi Kapanen

Zach Aston-Reese – Teddy Blueger – Brandon Tanev

Jared McCann – Frederick Gaudreau / Luke Glendening – Evan Rodrigues

Anthony Angello, Sam Lafferty, Colton Sceviour

Defensive depth could point to a potential trade

Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin are probably the only 100% safe defensemen on the roster right now, but there doesn’t appear to be any worry that John Marino, Mike Matheson or Cody Ceci will be traded — at the trade deadline, at least.

So, with a majority of the defensive corps locked in this season, who claims that final spot?

Dumoulin and Letang are top pairing locks; the Penguins’ best chance at an elite pairing. And Dumo has been very, very good — and the Pens by extension — when he’s been healthy this season. Letang has also shaken off his early season struggles to rank among the leaders in offensive production among NHL defensemen this season.

It’s been a disappointing season for Marino, but he’s still vital to the Penguins’ success. An inconsistent season for the smooth skating sophomore has seen him play his best hockey while paired with Ceci. Speaking of, Ceci has been one of the most consistent defensemen on the roster this season — one of the better moves in the late term of former GM Jim Rutherford’s tenure.

Matheson has been… inconsistent this season. What’s new there? He’s liable to drive play with his excellent skating ability or completely lose his defensive assignment on any given play. But he’s been OK, and it’s not like other teams are lining up for his hefty contract. It’s likely that Marcus Pettersson slots into the lineup with Matheson.

Juuso Riikola appears to be eternally in head coach Mike Sullivan’s dog house, Pierre-Olivier Joseph seems to be destined for a season in Wilks-Barre unfortunately and Mark Friedman and Chad Ruhwedel figure to be in competition for that 7th D spot (once Friedman is healthy). That leaves Pettersson as the sixth man.

However, in the event the Penguins want to make a splash move, Pettersson may be the player going the other way. So, maybe P.O. Joesph may eventually make another appearance…?

So, for now, let’s take a look at the defensemen:

Brian Dumoulin – Kris Letang

Cody Ceci – John Marino

Marcus Pettersson – Mike Matheson


A stable goaltending duo has meant made a world of difference

An abysmal start to the season for Tristan Jarry had me wondering if the Penguins’ goaltending duo was good enough to actually get the Pens anywhere this season. I’m happy to have been proven wrong.

With rumblings of a veteran goaltender potentially being brought in to solidify the situation, Jarry and Casey DeSmith have simply become the Pens’ best players over the past month and a half.

The thought of trading actual assets for someone like Kings’ goaltender Jonathan Quick will thankfully remain a “what-if” to be discussed in the future.

Jarry and DeSmith own the net right now, and the Penguins are better off for it.

The goaltenders:

Tristan Jarry

Casey DeSmith

Next. Check out how close Mat Barzal was to wearing a Penguins' sweater. dark

What would you want to see the Penguins do at the trade deadline this season? Let me know in the comments!