Penguins Predictions: Which right wing will spend the most time on Sidney Crosby’s line?
Editor’s note: Beat writer Jonathan Bombulie will make a series of Penguins predictions leading up to the start of training camp Sept. 14.
Which right wing will see the most time on the top line alongside Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby?
A. Patric Hornqvist
When Guentzel and Crosby were pouring in goals during the playoffs, Hornqvist was their right wing. His hard-nosed game and net-front presence are a good complement for skilled players. However, he doesn’t have the speed or give-and-go game that Crosby likes in his linemates. His shot-attempt percentage with Crosby last year (54.3) was the worst among the top four candidates for the job. When they were on the ice together five on five, the Penguins were outscored, 9-8.
B. Dominik Simon
A crafty winger with a history of playing with top players, Simon’s style meshes well with Crosby. The pair reportedly trained together in Nova Scotia in the offseason. Their numbers playing together at five on five last season (60.6 shot-attempt percentage, 13-8 scoring advantage) were the best among the top candidates. On the other hand, Simon wasn’t consistent in his first NHL trial last season, especially in the playoffs. If Simon, a lefty, plays on the right wing, it creates a righty logjam further down the lineup card.
C. Daniel Sprong
Sprong has massive natural goal-scoring talent. He was on Crosby’s line during the captain’s most dominant offensive performance of the regular season, a 4-0 win over the Islanders on Jan. 5. Sprong, though, isn’t good defensively, which could make Crosby spend too much of his time worrying about being the responsible one on the line.
D. Bryan Rust
Rust has the speed Crosby likes on his wing and consistently does the chores like defending, forechecking and digging pucks out of the corner that skill lines need to get done. But Crosby’s creativity is light years ahead of Rust’s, which can create a styles clash. Given the surplus of right-handed shooters on the roster, Rust might be needed on the left.
E. None of the above
The Penguins haven’t tried Phil Kessel with Crosby in a while. … If Derick Brassard is going to see some time on the wing, why not right wing? … Coach Mike Sullivan tries to avoid asking inexperienced players to switch to their off wing, but Aston-Reese showed some chemistry with Crosby during a brief trial last season.
B. Dominik Simon
It’s one of the greatest conundrums related to Crosby’s game. On one hand, he’s willing and able to elevate lesser talents on his wings, which creates dangerous balance on the team’s other lines. On the other hand, doesn’t one of the greatest players in the history of the game deserve as much talent on his wings as a team can possibly provide? Ultimately, Crosby and Guentzel need a third wheel who can play a smart game and do the little things right. Simon fits that description better than Hornqvist or Sprong. Also, the numbers Crosby and Simon put up together in 244 five-on-five minutes last year were really strong. Sullivan knows that.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at email@example.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.