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 Penguins winger will score the most goals this season?
A. Phil Kessel
There’s little doubt Kessel is the team’s most dangerous goal-scoring winger. His wrist shot remains one of the most lethal weapons in the entire league. Only 15 active players have scored more career goals than his 330. But there are good reasons to predict he won’t match his 34-goal total from last season. For one thing, his total of 12 power-play goals was abnormally high. Is it reasonable to expect the Penguins to connect on 26 percent of their chances with the man-advantage again? For another, his shooting percentage of 13.0 was greater than his 10.8 career average. If he drops back just a couple of goals, this becomes a very competitive horse race.
B. Patric Hornqvist
Hornqvist is a remarkably consistent scorer, cracking the 20-goal mark for each of the past five seasons. That puts him in a club with only 19 other NHL players. No player on the Penguins roster will be around the net more regularly, which makes him a good choice in any goal-scoring contest. His total of 29 from last year is probably due for a course correction, however. He scored a career-high 15 power-play goals and tied a career best with a shooting percentage of 11.7.
C. Jake Guentzel
It’s probably unfair to put such high expectations on a player in his first NHL season, but Guentzel’s 22-goal total last year could have been considered a mild disappointment after 16 goals in 40 games the year before. Regardless, his playoff performance – 10 goals in 12 games, including four in the series clincher against Philadelphia – erased all that sort of talk, and expectations are soaring again, especially as he enters the final year of his entry level contract. The bottom line is we don’t yet have a good idea of where Guentzel’s ceiling and floor lie when it comes to goal totals. It wouldn’t be a shock if he scored 20. It wouldn’t be a shock if he scored 40.
D. None of the above
Daniel Sprong’s shot is filthy. … Bryan Rust and Carl Hagelin have the speed to put up a monster year if they get shooting luck. … Dominik Simon is a good complement for skilled players. … What if Derick Brassard was a goal-scoring winger masquerading as a center all these years?
A. Phil Kessel
It’s reasonable to predict that Hornqvist’s 29-goal total a year ago was close to the high end of what he’s capable of, so it really comes down to Kessel and Guentzel. Kessel’s total of 34 from last season will probably drop because of a normalization of puck luck if nothing else. Guentzel’s total of 22 is likely to rise because he’s a 23-year-old whose game is still improving. But Kessel gets the power-play minutes that Guentzel doesn’t, so he’ll probably stay ahead on the final tote board.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.