Paul Sevanich (known as “Sev” in our comments sections) has taken the opportunity towrite a guest blog here at FF. If you would like to do the same, contact us through the contact form on our front page.

The Penguins’ weakness is generally agreed to be its lack of “scoring wingers,” but is that a fair criticism? Or, are expectations too high? Let’s see how the Penguins stack up vs. the elite of the NHL.

Apparently, the folks at TheLeafsNation.com were interested in the same issue. With 30 NHL teams and 3 forwards per line, that question became, how many points does it take to get a forward into the top 90 in scoring:

Fifty points was enough to get a player into the top-90 in scoring by NHL forwards – in other words, if a player recorded 50 points, he is definitively a first-line forward offensively. Fully half of those players scored between 50-60 points, so while a 50 point player is a below-average first-line scorer, he’s really only ten points back from being an average first-line scorer.

How about “2nd Line” forwards?

Thirty-four points was the cut-off for the top-180 in scoring for NHL forwards in 2010-11. Again, the meaning here is that the offensive range for a typical second-line player in the NHL is between 34 and 49 points.

And how does this play out in reality?

Taking a look at the “Final Four” from last season:

  • Boston: Four first-liners (Lucic, Krejci, Bergeron, Horton), three second-liners (Recchi, Marchand, Ryder)
  • Vancouver: Three first-liners (Sedin, Sedin, Kesler), three second-liners (Samuelsson, Burrows, Raymond)
  • Tampa Bay: Four first-liners (St. Louis, Stamkos, Lecavalier, Teddy Purcell), two second-liners (Simon Gagne, Malone)
  • San Jose: Six first-liners (Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski, Heatley, Clowe, Couture), one second-liner (Setoguchi)

Now, and more importantly, how do our very own Penguins stack up?

Because the data used in this article is straight points scored, and because many players have their point production adversely impacted by injuries in one particular season, I looked at 3-year averages.

Rank Player Avg GP Avg Pts
1 Sidney Crosby 66 93
2 Evgeni Malkin 64 76
3 James Neal 78 46
4 Chris Kunitz 66 44
5 Jordan Staal 69 43
6 Steve Sullivan 56 35
7 Tyler Kennedy 70 35
8 Pascal Dupuis 78 34
9 Matt Cooke 74 30
10 Dustin Jeffrey nmf nmf
11 Mark Letestu nmf nmf

We only have one partial year’s worth of data on Jeffrey (25 GP, 12 pts) and Letestu (64 GP, 27 pts). If Jeffrey played a full season (80 games) at about 90% of last year’s “pace” he’d be in the low to mid-30s. Letestu projects out in the same range. Close, but no cigar.

Results:

Pittsburgh: Two first-liners (Crosby, Malkin), six second-liners (Neal, Kunitz, Staal, Sullivan, TK, Dupuis)

That’s straight by the numbers, however, two things stand out to me:

  1. The importance of staying healthy, and
  2. the importance of younger players taking a step forward this year.

James Neal, for example, averaged 50 points his first two years in Dallas. He had some well-documented difficulties scoring during his time in Pittsburgh, although its reasonable to attribute that to a host of extenuating circumstances. If he is able to progress, and/or if the Penguins F corps can stay pretty healthy, its easy to envision him being back in the 50+ range.

Jordan Staal and Chris Kunitz, if they can stay healthy, should also rather easily make the 50+ club.

That would give the Penguins 5 and 3—>>five 1st-liners and three 2nd-liners. As good as—or better than—any team in the NHL.

I have to admit that this surprised me somewhat. As the LeafsNation article points out:

Fans and columnists alike tend to overestimate the amount of high-end offensive players a team needs to win, and consequently undersell the players they have.

Last year, the Penguins were 12th in the NHL in scoring. And that was with each of Crosby, Malkin, and Staal missing fully HALF the season.

This year, look for the Penguins to move back into the Top 5 in the NHL in scoring.

Bottom line: Ray Shero & Co. have assembled an elite level forward corps for the 2011-2012 season.