In winning the Stanley Cup in 2015, the Penguins found a recipe for success: depth on all four lines. They took that advice into 2016 and did it again. In 2017, the Penguins again bolstered this with the mid-season Derick Brassard addition.
2018 looks to be no different.
They’ll have unprecedented center depth in Brassard and Riley Sheahan. The Penguins used this to their advantage by causing match-up problems for many teams’ defense corps.
Brassard struggled to get going last season after the injury right before the playoffs. He had a full off-season and a few less days – a sickness caused him to miss a few days – of camp this time around.
Sheahan also has missed time with a nagging lower-body injury. He practiced in full with the team on Monday and seems to be inching closer to being ready for opening night next week.
Enough about just the centers, though. The management team has done everything right to give those guys some good looking wingers.
Say what you will about Dominik Simon, but he has earned an extended chance to show what he can do in the bottom-six. He’s played his best hockey with Sidney Crosby but who hasn’t? Head coach Mike Sullivan clearly wants to allow Simon a chance to blossom on the third line.
His teammates think he is a good player, too.
“That guy is a good hockey player,” goaltender Matt Murray said last week.
On Brassard’s right side, Bryan Rust and his new contract will wreak havoc.
Rust scored 13 goals and 38 points earning him a new deal. He moved all throughout the lineup and made his presence felt whether playing with Crosby or a line full of injury fill-in AHL’ers. He is a spark plug and can complement his line mates well.
The third line is going to be a force to be reckoned with. The fourth line will be one of the best in the NHL.
Sheahan will have two new(ish) faces next to him when the season opens.
Surely by now, you heard Matt Cullen has returned to try and win another Stanley Cup after falling well short with the Minnesota Wild last season. Even at 42 years old, Cullen has looked like a teenager skating wise and has played as well as anyone in the preseason.
Cullen’s versatility allows him to play either wing or even center as he did for most of his tenure the first time around. He knows the system. He is loved in the locker room. Cullen fits right in.
On the right side likely will be the young Daniel Sprong.
Sprong has one of the most lethal shots in the league already and he hasn’t even played a full NHL season yet. This one will likely be his first unless he is abysmal. The organization will give him every chance to flourish.
He even improved his defensive game in the AHL last season, his biggest knock.
Pittsburgh has also used Patric Hornqvist on the fourth line right wing. Both he and Sprong have alternated between the first and fourth line position, another huge showing of depth and flexibility.
While the Penguins have had tons of bottom-six depth over the past few seasons, this is the best it’s been in a while. Don’t forget about Derek Grant, Jimmy Hayes, and Teddy Blueger among other options in the minors.
This has the making of a deep playoff run if everything cooperates.
PHOTO: Derick Brassard is part of a deep bottom-six for the Pittsburgh Penguins this coming season. (Courtesy of @Penguins on twitter)