Any team who wins a Stanley Cup will do it with depth. Going back on previous Stanley Cup winners over the past ten years, most had the depth to outwork the other team beyond their first two lines.
The beautiful thing about depth is that you don’t need to have star players filling up three lines. Hell, the Penguins proved that last year more predominantly than any of the preceding Cup champions in recent memory.
The Pens rolled a third line consisting of ‘HBK’, or Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel. Obviously Kessel is one of the more premier scoring talents throughout the NHL. But Hagelin and Bonino are just mere role players. Hagelin doesn’t have elite scoring, but he uses his speed to beat teams. Bonino is a guy who wins faceoffs at an exceptional rate and blocks shots at will but still can also thrive if you temper expectations for 10-15 goals out of him.
The fourth line had a 39 year old center who still plays like the prime days of his rather lengthy career in Matt Cullen.
Having depth can never be a bad thing, until it can. And in the Penguins case, I guess it really isn’t even a bad thing.
All things considered with how the Penguins are playing, they face a nightly decision whether to play a guy like Tom Sestito against the tougher, more physical teams because the Penguins aren’t going to outmuscle any team in the NHL.
Or turn to a guy like Tom Kuhnhackl who prides himself on playing a defensive game. He’s nothing too flashy, but he represents something the Penguins lack without him in the lineup. The first forward you want in your defensive zone, but the last one you’d think could contribute in the offensive zone.
Soon, depth becomes a real issue for the Penguins. With Conor Sheary now back from injury, he regained his spot in the lineup pushing out both Sestito and Kuhnhackl. The latter have both proven they could be capable fourth line NHL’ers.
The Penguins were once believed to have a farm system that couldn’t replenish their NHL team. They won a Cup because of that same farm system.
It’s not like Matt Murray, Bryan Rust, and Scott Wilson grew off a tree.
Guys like Jake Guentzel, who is in the AHL, and David Warsofsky, who is a consistent healthy scratch, are NHL caliber players. Warsofsky has proven he can log NHL minutes on a team’s blue line. Whether that be for Pittsburgh or Ray Shero in New Jersey (*sigh*), he’s done it.
Guentzel has a hell of a shot and the Penguins could truthfully be employing him right now. But there just isn’t room.
And what about that Sprong guy that everyone is so hyped about? You know, the one who played about five minutes a game under Mike Johnston? For lord’s sake, Tom Sestito logs more minutes under Mike Sullivan.
But Sprong was the Penguins second round pick last year and as we saw against the Ottawa Senators when he scored on Craig Anderson, his release and shot is just lethal.
The Pens have a surplus of young talent. But what do they do with it?
They can’t trade it away because it would then insert another NHL ready player into the lineup and knock out yet another talented youngster, something the Penguins already have to deal with. They can’t leave it sitting in the AHL because what good is that going to do letting an NHL ready talent tear apart mediocre AHL goaltending?
What will be done remains to be seen. Mike Sullivan and Jim Rutherford have a plan. They always do. I’m not worried about how it will shake out, I just want to see what they plan to do and how they plan to do it.