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Fantasy Puck Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

Scott Cullen
9/23/2008 1:11:23 PM
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As long as the Pittsburgh Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they will be one of the most appealing teams in fantasy hockey.

An ankle injury limited Crosby last season but, when healthy, his production remains right up there with the best in the league. Given a full season, he's a good bet to capture the scoring title.

When Crosby was out last season, Malkin elevated his game from star to superstar level. Malkin has to figure out how to assert himself more consistently when Crosby is involved too, but he's capable of carrying any team.

Surrouding these two spectacular talents, however, the Penguins have a number of question marks.

Petr Sykora finished strong after a slow start last year and his 63 points represented his highest total since 2000-2001.

Miroslav Satan is a talented player who was out of his element with the Islanders and should be a better fit with the Penguins, but there's a risk in expecting a 34-year-old -- no matter how improved the circumstances -- to turn his game around.

The Penguins also brought in Ruslan Fedotenko from the Islanders and he can be a streaky scorer, yet he's never surpassed 41 points in a season.

Speedy winger Pascal Dupuis has been recast in a scoring role with the Penguins and he scored 12 points in 16 games after coming over from the Thrashers last year. If he can stick in a spot on a scoring line, he'll have value. If he falls back to a checking line, he'll have none, it's that simple.

Perhaps the biggest wildcard performer for the Penguins will be Jordan Staal. While Staal has proven he can be a quality two-way centre through his first two seasons, he could get an opportunity on Malkin's wing which would give Staal substantially more value and put him in position for a breakout offensive season.

One additional longshot to consider would be 26-year-old Finnish rookie Janne Pesonen, who scored 78 points in 56 games with Karpat in Finland last season. If some of the proven NHLers don't stick on a scoring line, Pesonen may get his chance.

The Penguins defence is going to suffer early on while Ryan Whitney is recovering from foot surgery, leaving Sergei Gonchar as the one proven puck-mover. To his credit, Gonchar is among the most productive defencemen in the league and that should continue that way.

While Whitney is out, there will be an opportunity for a young defenceman like Kris Letang (or possibly even Alex Goligoski) to emerge and earn power play time. Given the talent on Pittsburgh's power play, it goes without saying that anyone who gets a plum position on that unit is worth owning.

Whitney could miss a couple of months to start the season, which makes it difficult to spend a pick on him on draft day, but in deeper leagues with an injured reserve list, it's worth a shot.

After a terrific playoff, Marc-Andre Fleury is poised to join the best fantasy goaltenders, so long as he stays healthy. With the kind of offensive support that the Penguins provide, Fleury has a chance to win 40 games (like he did in 2006-2007).

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