Unfortunately the injury bug has bit the Pittsburgh Penguins again, this time it has hit Conor Sheary. An upper body injury will leave the 2nd year youngster out for 4-6 weeks, very sad to see as Sheary and Sidney Crosby have built such phenomenal chemistry since the Stanley Cup Finals last year and into this season. The 1-2 punch has been such a force that it has jumped Crosby into leading the NHL in goals (28) and recently gave Sheary 1 of the hottest streaks of his career, which coincided with him reciving the NHL’s 1st star of the week just 1 week ago.
We will all miss Sheary, but lets take a second to appreciate the depth of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Doesn’t matter what position it is, the Penguins have become like an assembly line. Plug in any new person and you receive a positive impact of production. Players like Chad Ruhwedel and Jake Guentzel have made a name for themselves this year, look at the revolution of young talent from the championship run, Sheary, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl and Scott Wilson were all important keys to the success. This should not be taken for granted, the Pens have riches when it comes to their farm system. This is important because the largest component to a Stanley Cup repeat is maintaining their health. No one wants injuries of course, but if they’re gonna happen, let them happen now. The call ups will carry the slack until then.
Now as for who will replace Sheary on the top line with Sid, there’s a couple of logical candidates best to suit the skill of reigning Conn Smythe winner. There are a few variables for this, such as before yesterday’s game against the Nashville Predators, normally it was Rust who was on the other side of Crosby, but that game we found Patric Hornqvist there. Hornqvist was actually 1 of my top choices for that spot, but now it may look as if he will be a mainstay there. They could, of course, make the top line Rust-Crosby-Hornqvist. So for the premise of this, we’ll exclude these 2 assuming 1 of them will be on the other side of the wing. Here are the other possible options:
Speed, speed, and more speed, that’s how the Penguins will kill you and that starts with Hags. Crosby in particular loves to play a fast paced game so Hagelin would be perfect to fill that role. If Rust were to be on the other side, opposing defenses’ heads would spin. If Hornqvist is there, he can anchor the net while the other 2 play a game of give and go. Crosby, the superior puck handler, could set up numerous opportunties as Hagelin roams the offensive zone. I don’t even need to get started on the odd man rushes.
Probably the most talented call up the Pens have had for offense, Guentzel has produced early and often since joining the NHL roster. Constantly paired with Evgeni Malkin, he would have no issue skating along side another great player like Crosby. The only problem here is that the Pens have many centers hurt right now, so he’s probably better off being proficient at center for now.
My favorite part of Crosby-Sheary-Rust was a nickname dubbed “Sid and the kids”, well Wilson could fall right into form with that mantra. He can skate to the dirty areas and bang around with whoever, he throws it all out on the line and could of course come to terms with his role on that line. Anything needed, Wilson can get it done.
Obviously they play on the power play together so the chemistry is already there. Kessel has 1 of the best shots in all of hockey and Crosby has been shooting more than eve in his career. Each game will be a tit for tat of who is setting up who. Kessel is sneaky fast even though people think all he does is eat hot dogs, rumor or not that guy is a Stanley Cup champion. Him and Sid would do great things.
Going back to the “Sid and the Kids” saying, Kuhnhackl is just fighting to get back in the lineup. I know you might be asking why would a healthy scratch get moved to the 1st line, well that’s how great the Penguins depth is. Plug a guy in anywhere and he will flourish. Kuhnhackl can grind and grind, he’s an exceptional penalty killer, which he could use his smarts and toughness to parlay that into offensive production in a different style and of course keeping others out of their zone. This guy’s got some moves too.
I certainly don’t envy Mike Sullivan for having to make this decision. There are definitely a lot of choices but any avenue you go should turn out just fine. That’s the depth of the team and the great output of the coach’s system. Luckily Matt Cullen is rumored to be back when the Pens take on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. That will ease some tensions and help fill out the rest of the lines.