Throughout Mike Sullivan’s tenure as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, he has been known to deploy his main forwards in pairs.
Penguins fans know the commonly Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel are glued at the hip; and for a while Teddy Blueger rolled with Zach Aston-Reese.
The trend of beginning lineup construction with pairs of forwards continued as Penguins training camp got underway for the 2022-23 season.
Through days one and two of camp, the forward pairs were listed as Crosby with Guentzel as usual, Evgeni Malkin with Bryan Rust, Jeff Carter with Kasperi Kapanen, and Blueger with Brock McGinn.
This pairing is one of few guarantees on the Penguins roster; Crosby and Guentzel have a chemistry that has only grown stronger over the years.
The two tied for the team lead in points in 2021-22 with 84 and will be looking for improve upon that number.
Trends for Guentzel show him having an improvement of a season and the idea of him reaching 50 goals and/or 100 points is not far fetched.
Crosby and Guentzel have been grouped with Valtteri Puustinen during camp and he has looked to fit in just fine, but he’s not a lock to start with the NHL roster.
Someone who is a lock, and looked impressive in a short stint with Crosby and Guentzel is Rickard Rakell.
Putting Rakell on the same training camp squad with Crosby and Guentzel doesn’t solidify anything roster wise, but it is an opportunity to grow the trio’s chemistry.
With Rakell playing up with Team 1, that plunks Rust two team two where he has been paired with Malkin.
Rust and Malkin are a duo that have played together before and shown they can be just as lethal as any first line in the league.
Having Malkin and Rust play as the main duo on the second line opens up a unique opportunity to filter who plays the open wing.
Jason Zucker is once again looking to have a bounce back season, and slotting him on the second line is a perfect spot to start.
So long as he can stay healthy, the Penguins will benefit from a hungry and motivated Zucker.
Aside from Zucker, Danton Heinen is another perfect candidate to play alongside Malkin and Rust.
Heinen saw growth in his first season in Pittsburgh and earned his way into the conversation of a top six forward.
Zucker and Heinen can make cases in the top six, but they also have the right ability to play with Carter and Kapanen.
Not matter who plays on their wing, however, Carter and Kapanen are looking for rebound seasons in their own rights.
The need for a Kapanen bounce back is a bit more obvious and Zucker or Heinen should help exponentially.
One spot in the Penguins line up that is still up for discussion is who plays alongside Blueger and McGinn?
There is a number of options and none of them read as young prospects, only due to the fourth line position.
Putting prospects aside, the spot next to Blueger and McGinn is likely to go to a lesser skilled forward like Josh Archibald or Drake Caggiula.
Sullivan likes to pair his forwards and in doing that leaves a fair amount of breathing room for adjustments to the lineup.
The Penguins forward core is filled to the brim with NHL ready talent and there is no real wrong answer to how the lineup shakes out.
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