Adding a Top-Six Forward is No Longer Needed

David Perron against Montreal

David Perron against Montreal 1/10/15 – Photo Courtesy of

By: Jim Meinecke

If you asked Penguins’ fans at the beginning of the season what they were most worried about, the response heard most would have been “top-six” scoring depth. It was a legitimate concern. James Neal had just been shipped out of town to Nashville. Patric Hornqvist was a relative unknown and certainly not the sniper Neal was. How would he gel with Malkin or Crosby? Beau Bennett looked tremendous in camp. Could he stay healthy? Pascal Dupuis was back, but he was coming off of a serious knee injury in the offseason. Would he lose a step? Could he really still play with the world’s best player and be productive?

Some of those issues have already answered themselves this season. Patric Hornqvist is no James Neal, but he certainly looks right at home on one of the top two lines. Beau Bennett has had some injury trouble, but in the games he has played, he has looked phenomenal. Pascal Dupuis looked like he didn’t miss a beat, but unfortunately suffered a season-ending blood clot. While some of those questions were being answered, many new ones were being asked. Some were good. For a variety of reasons, many were not. Blake Comeau has been a steal for General Manager Jim Rutherford. At $700,000 this season, he was brought in to provide depth and some scoring… to the bottom-six. He has shown to be a legitimate top-six forward and has continually come up huge for this team. Could he keep up this pace? What about Chris Kunitz? He was supposed to be a stalwart in the top-six. He of course suffered the broken foot this season, but even still, he went through a patch where he scored 15 points in 24 games. That is not going to get it done. Additionally, with all of the injuries this season, Crosby and Malkin have been the only consistent players in the top-six.

General Manager Jim Rutherford made no attempts to hide the fact that he was actively looking to add a top-six forward, and he was not necessarily waiting until the deadline. True to his word, he brought in David Perron at the start of the new year. Many folks, however, were already asking when the next piece would fall. Who else will Jim Rutherford bring in to add to the top-six? This team is still a move away from being a cup contender, right? For the first time in a long time, I say it is time for Rutherford to stand pat with the top-six for the Penguins.

Let’s look at the lines from last game:

Pens Line 1-13-15

Latest Penguins forwards in the starting lineup via

The line of Kunitz-Crosby-Perron has been very good so far. Chris Kunitz seems to have broken out of whatever funk he was in. He only has three points in his last five games, but he has looked quicker on the ice. He has also been more physical and is starting to create some scoring chances. David Perron has been great in his short tenure with the Penguins. He has shown a scoring touch with three goals in four games, and he has some tremendous hands. It will take him a bit of time to get adjusted to playing with someone the caliber of Sidney Crosby, but the chemistry will come with time. The more important thing is that David Perron is doing something that hasn’t been done since Marian Hossa. He is a scoring winger that is able to create chances on his own. This is freeing up more ice for Sidney Crosby. That is meant as no knock on Kunitz and Dupuis who filled in admirably as Crosby’s wingers for years, but they don’t have the raw skill Perron possesses.

[Goal 2] Perron ()

Perron Goal 1/13/15 vs. Wild

The line of Spaling-Malkin-Bennett will look a bit different once the Penguins get healthy. It would seem likely Hornqvist will fill in for Spaling on the second line. Hornqvist has proved he can play with either Crosby or Malkin, and Spaling will be in a more comfortable position in the bottom-six. As for Beau Bennett, barring an injury, he is not going anywhere from the line with Evgeni Malkin. The two have been the reason this has been Penguins’ top line since Bennett has returned from injury.

The third line would take on a slightly different feel as Blake Comeau would most likely be plugged in where he started the year alongside Sutter and Downie. The line provided some great scoring and depth to complement the top two lines before the injury bug settled into this team. Even though Comeau has missed ten games, he is fifth on the team with 11 goals. It will be a great luxury for the team to roll a third line that has 27 goals and 28 assists among them.

Finally, the fourth line will (hopefully) look different once everyone is healthy. Spaling would move down to play wing for Goc and hopefully Rust or the recently acquired Arcobello. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sill or Adams still find a way into the starting lineup. Either way, this will once again spread the wealth around to make a more balanced attack overall.

Blake Comeau scores a hat trick against the Maple Leafs 11/26/14

Blake Comeau has been a pleasant surprise this season(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

With all that being said, I don’t see the need for Rutherford to go out and acquire anyone else. Quite frankly, there is not any room for another top-six winger, and we have seen in the past that chemistry is just as important as talent. The roster listed above has plenty of talent to bring the cup back to Pittsburgh, and for those that will quickly bring up that the Penguins will need depth to compensate for injury-prone players like Beau Bennett, I would say to them that is the luxury of having Blake Comeau play the way he has this season. He can easily move into that spot and play with Hornqvist and Malkin. Additionally, due to all of the injuries, players like Bryan Rust or Andrew Ebbett have shown they can at least contribute in a small sense on the 4th line.

The bottom line is that barring another slew of injuries in the spring, this team with this roster will be the favorite to win the East and many peoples pick to win the cup. As Penguins fans are all too familiar with, at that point, it comes down to coaching and the players executing.  Jim Rutherford has done everything he needed to this season for the organization to succeed at the highest level. Here’s hoping it is much less disappointing than the past few playoff seasons.

Thanks for reading! I am looking forward to interacting with all of you during the season.