The Pittsburgh Penguins are short on answers when it comes to forward depth. After making huge efforts to retain Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin, the team is unsure who will be the difference makers on the third and fourth lines.
One player already penciled in for the third line is Jeff Carter. Entering his age 37 season, what can the Penguins expect from their oldest player?
In 2021-2022, the Penguins placed lofty expectations on Carter. With Malkin and Sidney Crosby each missing chunks of the season, Carter was called to play as second line center for most of the first half of the year. This resulted in Carter's average time on ice rising to 17:40, over a minute increase from his prior two seasons in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.
Carter finished the regular season playing regularly on the third line, and posted 19 goals and 26 assists for 45 points. In the postseason, he netted an additional four goals and five points in their first round series loss.
Through the first half of the season, Carter looked solid and the team rallied around the injuries to their stars. Post all-star break, however, Carter's play declined. While he was able to score four goals in the playoffs, it didn't seem to make up for how sluggish he looked.
The Penguins biggest need from Carter this upcoming season is consistency. There’s no denying the veteran effect he brings. He’s a trusted voice in the locker room and has the playoff pedigree to back up his words. In a locker room full of championship experience, he’s able to stand out as a leader. But they also need his play to solidify the bottom six forward group. Not only that, but he needs to sustain it for more than half of the season.
Given Carter’s long-standing history of scoring, the Penguins can count on more of that this season. Despite being closer to the end of his career, he is still a 15-20 goal candidate. His shooting skill is still too-notch and he relies on it more and more as his speed declines. The Penguins will depend on his offensive skill to boost the second power-play unit in addition to the third line.
One of the biggest and most underrated skills Carter brings to the Penguins is his face-off abilities. Since his arrival in Pittsburgh, head coach Mike Sullivan has regularly sent Carter out for pivotal face-off situations. In penalty killing and defensive zone draws on the right side of the ice, it’s a near guarantee that Big Jeff Carter will be in the face-off dot.
The Penguins need a bit more from the elder statesmen on their roster this upcoming season. With their sights set on perhaps a final Stanley Cup run, contributions from depth players like Carter will be in high demand. He doesn’t need to be a top 6 player, but 15 goals and 35-40 points isn’t too much to ask for.
Carter certainly has more to give than what he showed in the second half of the 2021-22 season. The Penguins are counting on that, and maybe even more.
Make sure you bookmark Inside the Penguins for the latest news, exclusive interviews, breakdowns and so much more!