Fantasy Puck Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

Scott Cullen

9/30/2009 5:38:17 AM

The defending Stanley-Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins have some of the premier players when it comes to fantasy hockey, with supreme individual talents that also lift the production of those around them.

Last year's league-leading scorer, Evgeni Malkin, has gone over 100 points, with a double-digit plus rating in each of the last two seasons and recorded at least 40 power play points in each of his three years in the NHL. In virtually every league, Malkin will be one of the top three selections.

Sidney Crosby is also a top-three pick, but the fact that he's had a season in which he missed significant playing time (playing 53 games in 2007-2008) leaves him a hair behind Malkin and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin. Even so, with 397 points in 290 career games, and with three 100-point seasons in four years, Crosby is better than a mere consolation prize.

Picked up from Anaheim last season, Chris Kunitz is a fine complement to Crosby, and put up 18 points in 20 games after arriving in Pittsburgh. While not as talented as Sid the Kid, Kunitz plays with a similar drive to his game and should be produtive just by digging in the corners and going hard to the net.

On the other wing of Crosby, veteran Bill Guerin still has the ability to finish, scoring at least 20 goals in 10 of the last 11 seasons and the 38-year-old still plays with enough edge to contribute penalty minutes as well.

21-year-old Jordan Staal already has 63 NHL goals to his credit and scored a career-high 49 points last season, but it's hard to project and offensive breakout from him if he's not getting power play time and he has yet to score more than seven points in a season with the man advantage. Until that time comes, Staal is a better "real" player than fantasy player.

Some other Penguins wingers may have appeal at times throughout the season, but would only have draft day value in the deepest leagues. Ruslan Fedotenko and Tyler Kennedy are both capable of scoring 20 goals over a full season, but neither has been a consistent enough producer for fantasy ownership. Kennedy, admittedly, is just entering his third season, so his potential for a breakout season may give him greater value.

Veteran power play quarterback Sergei Gonchar played only 25 games last season, due to injury, but he's been a relatively durable performer, skating in at least 70 games for eight consecutive seasons prior to that. In Pittsburgh, Gonchar has been a power play beast, scoring at least 38 power play points in each of his three full seasons, before scoring 13 of his 19 points last year with the man advantage.

With his offensive upside, Gonchar is one of the top three or four defencemen available for fantasy owners.

The second option on the Pittsburgh blueline is Kristopher Letang, a 22-year-old who has been improving and taking on greater responsibility in his two-plus NHL seasons. Letang isn't a high-end fantasy option yet, but a nice guy to round out your roster in the later rounds.

While he may not be ready for primetime on draft day, also keep and eye on Alex Goligoski, whose puck-moving ability is the key to his keeping NHL employment.

Finally, when it comes to goaltending, despite his flaws, Marc-Andre Fleury has quite a bit of fantasy appeal because he's playing behind such a strong team and has a firm grip on the starting job. With at least 60 starts, Fleury should be able to push for 40 wins and that's making an impact in fantasy hockey.