COACH: Mike Johnston
2013-14 RECORD: 51-24-7, 109 points (first in Metropolitan, lost to Rangers in second round)
VITAL SIGNS: 3.0 goals per game (5th), 2.5 goals-against per game (10th); 23.4 power play pct. (1st); 85.0 penalty kill pct. (5th); shootout record: 7-3 (3rd)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
OUTLOOK: After changes in the front office (new GM Jim Rutherford) and behind the bench (rookie Mike Johnston, ex-bench boss of the WHL's Portland Winterhawks), the Penguins should once again be the class of the Metro Division during the regular season, if only because of their still considerable stockpile of talent. Johnston plans to ratchet up the pace of the Penguins' attack and, as usual, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will each have a shot at putting up 100+ point seasons if they stay healthy. Patric Hornqvist will chip in some goals in place of the departed (to Nashville) James Neal as well, perhaps without the head-down, shoot-first propensity for which Neal was stigmatized. The continuing emergence of young backliner Olli Maatta and new arrival Christian Ehrhoff should fill the holes left by the departures of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. If goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (and, for that matter, the rest of the team) can bury the playoff demons, the Penguins’ skill and experience should make them contenders to emerge from the Eastern Conference. The postseason is a completely different beast, of course, but Penguins fans will expect Sid and Co. to contend for the Cup.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Olli Maatta
He's coming off shoulder surgery, but keep an eye on him once this 20-year-old Finn is fully healthy. Maatta’s poise at the point won him praise during a rookie season in which he played 78 games and tallied 29 points while helping the Penguins overcome a wave of injuries to their blueline corps. Learning from the likes of Kris Letang and Paul Martin will speed his development into a top-tier defenseman, and his penchant for stepping up in the offensive zone should reveal improvement as he learns to temper his offensive instincts with the responsibility of being a cog in new coach Mike Johnston's defensive scheme.
PREDICTION: 102 points (first in Metropolitan)