Pittsburgh Penguins 2019-20 season preview: Are they still among NHL's elite?

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Phil Kessel is out, and Alex Galchenyuk is in. Do Sidney Crosby & Co. have another Stanley Cup run in them? And what further tweaks will GM Jim Rutherford make to the roster? Here's everything you need to know about the Penguins heading into the 2019-20 NHL season:

The big question: Will the Galchenyuk-for-Kessel trade be worth it?

The Penguins never found their stride last season, and their worst deficiencies were exposed in an ugly first-round sweep at the hands of the Islanders. GM Jim Rutherford knew he needed to make a change to the culture. So he sent Kessel, one of his most productive forwards, to Arizona. "It was just time to make a change with him," Rutherford said after the deal. "I tried to accommodate him with a place he wanted to go, so it worked out that way."

In return, Pittsburgh got Galchenyuk, a 25-year-old who was the No. 3 pick in 2012 and is brimming with potential -- but has yet to translate it to NHL success.

Offseason comings and goings, cap situation

The big summer move was to swap Kessel for Galchenyuk. The Penguins also added Brandon Tanev (on a surprising six-year term) and Dominik Kahun as top-six options, while parting with blueliner Olli Maatta. Matt Cullen retired.

The Penguins are currently over the cap, meaning they'll have to make a move before the season begins. Rutherford likes to make "hockey trades," but it's going to be difficult considering that the players Pittsburgh might want to unload (Jack Johnson and his $3.25 million cap hit, notably) might not garner much in return.

Bold prediction

Jake Guentzel hits 90 points. With Kessel out of the equation, Guentzel will get more time on the power play, which will boost his production. Guentzel, 24, had perhaps the quietest 40-goal season in the league. He gets some flak around the league for being propped up by playing with Crosby. But hey, the kid simply produces, and seems to be still finding his stride.

Breakout candidate: Dominik Kahun

Anybody who lines up next to Crosby has the chance to become a household name, and Kahun -- acquired via a trade with the Blackhawks -- should get a chance early in the season. The 24-year-old spent some time on Jonathan Toews' line in Chicago, but this is an opportunity to level up even more.

Biggest strength

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as the one-two punch at center. It's been this way for more than a decade now, but it's truly the team's strength. Malkin is coming off a down year (by his standards), but is motivated and primed to rebound -- especially since his 11.2 shooting percentage was about 6 percentage points down from the two prior campaigns. Crosby, in his age-31 season, put up 100 points and had perhaps his best defensive campaign as a pro. This is still an elite duo.

Biggest weakness

The back half of the blue-line group. The forward group is in good shape because it has Crosby and Malkin, who tend to make their linemates better, and the bottom six is quite deep. On defense, though, we have some worries. Kris Letang had an excellent season, and Marcus Pettersson is a breakout candidate in the second pair. But after that, things get bleak. Johnson isn't playing up to what his contract suggests, and a third pairing that includes Erik Gudbranson shouldn't scare many teams.

Penguins in NHL Rank

  • 4. Sidney Crosby, C

  • 37. Evgeni Malkin, C

Future Power Ranking: 21

The front office got high marks from our panel (No. 8), but the aging roster (No. 14) is becoming a concern, and the cap situation (No. 27) and prospects (No. 28) don't portend bright things in the near future when that concern becomes more dire.

Prospect perspective

Pipeline ranking: 31

Prospects in top 100: N/A

Fantasy facts to know

Phil Kessel led the Penguins in power-play ice time and scoring last season. He's gone. Jake Guentzel scored 41 goals last season despite not getting regular minutes with the top power play. Talent, meet opportunity. Opportunity, meet talent.

Alex Galchenyuk and the Arizona Coyotes horribly lost the trade made with the Montreal Canadiens for Max Domi. Galchenyuk is facing a make-or-break situation with Pittsburgh, which, luckily for him, is about the best place in the NHL to try to revive your career as a winger. He's definitely worth a shot in drafts, just don't get your hopes too high and be ready to cut bait if he's not getting it done out of the gates.

Kris Letang: ever so fragile, ever so dominant on a per-game basis. His 2018-19 production prorates to an 82-game pace of 20 goals, 50 assists and 260 shots. Those numbers would have been first, sixth and third among defensemen last season. If you can stomach the risk, he's arguably the best there is when healthy. -- Sean Allen