Super Mario's World

Things are looking up for Mario and his Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite bankruptcy, the inability to get a new arena and losing seasons the last few years, the Pens have a promising future. The new CBA should allow Pittsburgh to play on a more level playing field with the rest of the league. And new investors are on the horizon from the west coast that should put the team in more stable financial position.

But the real bright spot is on the ice where the Pens have put together a nice foundation of young players to build around.

It starts in goal where the Pens have a future franchise goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury. With great size, athleticism and quickness, Fleury has all the tools to be the next top French Canadian netminder to hit the NHL. Perhaps the pressure was too much for a young teenager to be the savior for an NHL team but if the Pens can field a decent team in front of him, he should succeed. Youngsters Andy Chiodo and Sebastien Caron will vie for the backup job next season. Both have had a taste of the NHL but Caron has the upper hand with more experience and a better track record in the pros.

The Pens have not had a good defence since Larry Murphy and the Samuelssons were patrolling the blueline. But now, the Pens are hoping that they can field a new big 3 on D that should carry them for years. Led by Ryan Whitney, Brooks Orpik and Noah Welch, the Pens should be solid in their own end for a long time. Whitney is the offensive catalyst that the Pens have sorely lacked on defence. He can skate and has a high skill level which allowed him to average about half a point a game in his first pro season. With more experience he should round out to be a nice two way blueliner who does a bit of everything. Orpik is the rock on defence that they havent seen since Ulfie. He plays big and tough and enjoys punishing opponents. The loss of a year may hurt development of his all round game but he should give the Pens a shutdown guy for a long time. Welch, another American, was one of the better players in US College on defence. His size is a coveted trait as his ability on offence where he shows some promise with his instincts and skill. Though he could use his size better and some pro experience would help, Welch should be a solid top 4 defenceman.

Since drafting Jaromir Jagr, the Pens have not had the chance to pick up a franchise forward for the next generation. That was until they managed to grab Evgeny Malkin. Though not as glamourous as his fellow countryman Alexander Ovechkin, Malkin is quite the player. Blessed with tremendous size and world class skill, Malkin has all the makings of a top notch centre. He is who the offense will be built around.

And the Pens are putting together a nice set of young forwards to go with Malkin. Ryan Malone is developing into a nice power type winger. Though he is not very physical, his 6’4 frame is tough to move and that should really help the Pens on the powerplay. Konstantin Koltsov brings to the Pens tremendous speed and skating ability. He has the skills to be a top line sniper but he simply can never bury his chances. But his all-round game will keep him in the lineup regularly. Milan Kraft is like Koltsov with the skill set to be a top line forward but severely lacking in the production department. Perhaps he needs a chance to play with better linemates. Sergei Anshankov is much like Malone in that he has potential to be a power type winger. with good hands to go with his size, he should be troublesome in front of the net and in the corners. If he can add sufficient bulk, he might be a force. Tuomas Surovy is another skilled player who could be a decent playmaker and point producer in the NHL. He is however very soft and may not be willing or able to play in traffic areas. Kris Beech was the key man the Pens acquired in the Jagr trade. Unfortunately he has had trouble living up to expectations. He should be a solid 3rd line centre contributing at both ends of the ice. He is a good playmaker and has shown glimpses of his creativity. Colby Armstrong is also another player more adept at filling a role on a checking line. Not much of a scorer, he should be a good checker, a decent grider and a solid dressing room guy. Ben Eaves is another guy who should be a nice role player. He is similar to Brian Gionta of the Devils in that he is small but can provide some energy and offence. The more open NHL style which the league is trying to create will benefit the small players like Eaves.

There are many others such as Michal Sivek, Maxime Talbot, Michel Ouellett, Shane Endicott, Johannes Salamonsson who at some point may have a chance at making the big club. Either way, they give the Pens some depth down on the farm and add to their wealth of young talent.

Pittsburgh is going to have some interesting decisions to make.

They only have roughly $5.5 million committed in salaries leaving them with a healthy load of salary cap room to work with.

Forwards: Rico Fata, Surovy, Pirjeta, Mark Recchi

Defence: Ric Jackman

Goal: Caron

They will need to try to bring back some of their key restricted free agents:

Forward: Beech, Kraft, Koltsov, Malone, Matt Bradley, Alex Morozov

Defence: Orpik, Josef Melichar, Dick Tarnstrom, Michel Roszival

And of course find the dough to pay their best player, unrestricted free agent/top centre/captain and part owner Mario Lemieux.

The team has tons of talented kids to work with and to build upon over the next few years. Recchi and Mario give them two proven scorers who should help ease the load on the youngsters. They may in fact make a splash in free agency and bring in another proven scorer like maybe Alex Zhamnov or Alexei Kovalev. They also could use some muscle as many of their youngsters are small and soft.

If they can add stronger talent on defence to join in*****bents Jackman and Tarnstrom to help the Pens younger blueliners, they should have enough talent to at least challenge for a playoff spot. It will be imperative for Pittsburgh to solidify their blueline so that young Fleury in goal doesnt get buried alive with 50 shots a night.

With a solid young coach, a bevy of top young prospect in the system and plenty of cap room available, and maybe funds coming in via new investors, the Pens will be a team to watch for and maybe in a few years time be back into the playoff hunt. And heck, if Mario returns to form and can lead these kids the right way, the Pens may be back in the hunt sooner rather than later.

13 Responses to Super Mario's World

  1. ranger_fan says:

    There was a report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that said there were some west coast investors who were looking to become the majority owner of the Pens.

  2. hockeyhead says:

    i gotta say that i think Kris beech is a terrible letdown.

    sign glen murray…..he seems to be making a luc robitaille-esc run .


  3. nordiques100 says:

    well wherever murray goes, stumpel seems to follow. boston, LA, boston, LA

  4. dudemar says:

    Excellent article. Maybe it’s that I don’t frequent the site as often, but I hardly ever see anything about the Pens on here.

    I agree, Beech has rarely shown any promise, but I think with the team(and himself) being so young that there may be time yet for him to come around. I’m hoping the same for Surovy, he’s a natural born goal scorer but needs to find some consistency. I’d go on but, it’d be easier to say that I pretty much agree with the article and that it’s nice to finally have some optimism in Pittsburgh.

  5. TheCoach says:

    I think the Pittsburgh Penguins will be relocated to Kansas City. Them, or the St. Louis Blues.

  6. CechmanekForVezina says:

    Is this a joke?

  7. Jackman says:

    Excellent article Nords. You know your Penguino hockey!

    I don’t want the Pens to move, but if that ever does happen, maybe Mario can finally play in Quebec!

    There are alot of young players that we have drafted that need a chance to shine alongside some talent. Remember Naslund?? Can you imagine if we kept him?!

    Mario says that they’re going to go after Kovvie and “many other free agents.” And if anyone knows Craig Patrick, that will definitely happen.

    I’d like to see Ronnie Francis come back too. Although he can’t skate very good, he can just play his game and set up players like Kraft and Beech on a 2nd or 3rd line. He would be cheap too.

    The Pens did have a brutal year. But their defence has some good talent. Dick Tarnstrom, who most people cut up all season long, was actually rated higher than Mattias Ohlund in the Swedish Elite League. Another gem for Craig Patrick. He led the team in points and if Mario played, he’d probably lead the league in D-man points. Rik Jackman was a late season acquisition and has an absolute canon from the point. Look for Ramzi Abid to get a few tip-ins from Jackman.

    The Pens turning into a legitimate contender hinges on 4 things: A Healthy Lemieux, Fleury proving for once that he is NHL calibre, Eddie O proving that he is an NHL coach, good free agent signings/trades.

    Who knows how teams are going to end up looking like after the lockout?

    I think the NHL has finally realized that their product is boring. Teams winning with the trap. Score the first goal and dump it high off the glass for 2 periods. Hopefully this crap will be gone for good. There is nothing more annoying than a team scoring the first goal and then sitting on it. You might as well turn the tv off as soon as the Devils score. The NHL calls itself the fastest game on earth. It was the fastest game on earth – in the fastest skater challenge! Now, maybe it will be too in actual NHL games for more than 3 weeks.

    Apparently in the new NHL, it’ll all be different.

    Making the nets bigger is not needed – just don’t allow the goalies to dress up like Godzilla and we’re doing good.

    Maybe we can have some actual 100 point scorers.

    Can’t wait for the hockey pools!!!!

  8. guinsfan4life says:

    I think if they go anywhere, it will be Portland. But they could end up in Kansas City. We won’t know for sure until late 06 when the slots license is awarded.

    But we do know for sure, public funding is not an option for a new arena.

  9. guinsfan4life says:

    I also agree that the penguins have a very bright future, although I am not as sure the prospects they have are all going to pan out. Fleury is not ready to be a regular yet, so they need a veteran goalie. Fleury has struggled in WBS. They also need a physical defenseman and playmaking centre, which they can get via FA. Zhamnov, formerly of the flyers is a possibility, as is Kovie.

    One thing is for sure, it will be nice to watch and see how this all pans out.

  10. dudemar says:

    Fleury really does worry me. I hope he pans out, in a big way. I really like what I see when he’s on top of his game. The last few years have been tough for him, like getting thrown into the league with a bad team his first year and losing with Canada. Hopefully the effect wasn’t/isn’t too severe. He had a winning record at least inWB, but blew it in the playoffs, which isn’t the greatest sign and seems to be a trend with him. I’ve rambled enough, I think he’ll come around, with the Pens he’ll have some better D and possibly be working with a better goalie coach.

  11. Bishop7979 says:

    I love the fact that with the possible roll back in salaries recchi will cost the team a little over 2.5 million this up coming year. for a player that can still score 25-30 goals a year that is a great find, even in the post cba nhl.

    Tarnstrom must be resigned, he had the 4th highest point totals among defensemen, only 4 behind gonchar, and more than Blake, Leetch, Chara Zubov and Redden. And had the 21st highest points total playing in only 54 games, and was a point per game producer playing with the pens. He beat out guys like Hamerlik, Jonnson, Boyton and Zhitnik all guys who played many more games.

    Orpik will still be a physical tank on the blue line and with Marios statements about signing some significant players once the league starts up anouther top pair defensive signing is possible.

    Malone is a top priority. He’s a home grown kid who plays a strong power forward game. I watched him score some goals where he just curled in towards goal, holding the defenders off with one hand while scoring with the other. It reminded me of Leclair in his prime. I’m excited to see him play with some of the presure off his back and some linemates to help him.

    Rozival, Melichar, Bradley can all be jettisoned.

    Fata could be a good energy player on wing opposite the underated (as far as physical play and defensive play) Koltsov to make a fast disruptive 3rd line. Fatas’s production equaled or exceeded guys like Kariya, Selanne, peca, Yashin, Lindros, Zhammnov and O’neil. Yes some of these guys were injured and or had horrible years. But for the 600k the pens are paying him at least fata played and produced a something.

    Endicot is NHL ready as a big (6-4 220 lb) defensive center and with Armstrong will make up 2/3s of a good young quick checking line.

    Ouellet did score over 30 goals in 40 the first 40 games of the AHL season as a second year pro. (if only he scored more than 1 after beech was lost for most of the second half)

    I dont want to see Zhamnov playing for the pens, he was injured alot over the last season he played, and has never really played a whole season in his career, he’s anouther year older, and its a year I’ve been told he has taken off (something that too many of the penguins go to guys have done)

    I’d perfer Demitra as an addition if it were up to me. He’s younger, quicker and has been a more productive player both a center and wing, than zhamnov has been.

  12. Bishop7979 says:

    the line should read

    “And JACKMAN had the 21st highest points total playing in only 54 games, and was a point per game producer playing with the pens. He beat out guys like Hamerlik, Jonnson, Boyton and Zhitnik all guys who played many more games

  13. raine_kalisz says:

    He shows flashes of good play, but I don’t think he’ll ever be more than a 5th or 6th defenseman on a good team. He’s extremely unreliable on the defensive end. He falls asleep too much. The only reason his point totals were so high is because he can shoot really hard and because he played with a gifted playmaker like Tarnstrom. He should fit in as a top 4 defenceman in Pittsburg though for at least another year. After that we’ll see.

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