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Johnston will enter camp looking for wingers for Malkin

Aug 26, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT

Evgeni Malkin Getty Images

Evgeni Malkin meshed well with James Neal and Jussi Jokinen last season, but neither of his wingers are returning to Pittsburgh for 2014-15. As a result, one of Mike Johnston’s first tasks as Pittsburgh’s new bench boss will be remaking the second line.

Rather than focus on three-forward units, Johnston is more interested in finding at least one winger that each center can count on playing with regularly and then change up the third player as the situation warrants. The idea is that it will provide each line with a degree of stability without completely sacrificing flexibility. So for example, Johnston likes the way Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby play together, so they’re projected to typically make up two-thirds of the first line.

Before his 2013-14 campaign was cut short due to a knee injury, Pascal Dupuis was typically the third man on that top unit, but that might not be the case under Johnston.

“(Dupuis) can play anywhere in the lineup,” Johnston told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He certainly has played well with Sid before. Can he play well with (Malkin)? That’s what we’ve got to see.”

Patric Hornqvist, who was acquired from Nashville in the Neal trade, is another serious contender to be Malkin’s partner.

Although neither is likely to start the season as Malkin’s full-time linemate, 22-year-old Beau Bennett and 2014 first round draft pick Kasperi Kapanen will also be watched closely during training camp to see where — and in Kapanen’s case if — they might fit in.

Regardless of who Johnston picks, the bigger question regarding Malkin is his health. He was limited to 60 games last season and has a lengthy history of injuries. If he stays healthy, he’ll likely be effective with almost any wingers, but if he keeps ending up on the sidelines then obviously it won’t matter who he’s been paired with.

  1. milkmemalkin - Aug 26, 2014 at 8:34 PM

    Quite frankly, you could put two grinders next to Malkin and the line will produce so I am no too concerned if Malkin plays with two world class talents like Dupuis and Hornqvist.

    • bencia823 - Aug 27, 2014 at 2:10 PM

      people are thumbing you down but the truth of the matter is that he won the conn smythe with fedotenko and talbot on his wings (if I remember correctly)

      • milkmemalkin - Aug 27, 2014 at 5:25 PM

        Yeah people will be ignorant right? At least true fans like you know fact from fiction.

  2. killerpgh - Aug 26, 2014 at 9:31 PM

    I’m not too worried about it either. Malkin won the Conn Smythe playing 5 on 5 with Talbot and Fedotenko if my memory is correct.

  3. 19to77 - Aug 26, 2014 at 10:16 PM

    The bigger question is his durability. Malkin works well with almost everyone he plays with, but can’t play a full healthy season to save his life – and Pittsburgh can’t afford to have their second-best player out of the lineup for 20ish games every year without exposing their depth scoring issues. They made some changes to help address that this summer, but even then, if (when) Malkin goes down, their choices for second-line centre are Nick Spaling and Brandon Sutter. Not exactly the ideal situation to be in, that.

  4. jaybaileys - Aug 26, 2014 at 10:56 PM

    Don’t you think Sutter would be a 2nd line center on most teams in the NHL?

    • chanceoffleury - Aug 26, 2014 at 11:43 PM

      ehhh, I’d say closer to 50/50. On a lot of teams the case would be: he would have the opportunity to try and push another guy out of the position, but he’s not good enough to say he’d definitely come out on top. And not a lot of those teams are playoff caliber teams. I think a players “value” to a team should be judged on how the player would fit in to a playoff caliber team, not just league wide. He’s without a doubt still a 3C on Anaheim, LA, Boston, Pittsburgh, Dallas, and San Jose. Probably Colorado and Tampa, too. If he wants nothing more than the title of being a 2C he could find it on a lot of teams in the NHL, but if he wants to win a cup he’s gonna have to grind it out and pay a few more dues. Unless he finds his way to Chicago. They’re really the only ready to win contender with a 2C spot up for grabs. The verdict is still out on whether Richards will be able to hang. With a few more years of grooming he’ll probably get up to that level but I still consider him a 3C on most good teams.

      • jinx21fan - Aug 27, 2014 at 12:47 AM

        I agree chance. You’d be pretty hard pressed to find one of the better teams (his own included) where he would be a #2. He’s a very good player in the role he performs now. Too often players excel in a certain roll and other teams think they can expand their rolls with the same success. Marty Lapointe , Todd Marchant, heck even another old Pen Jordan Staal went from being a stud #3 to a very disappointing #2.

    • c9castine - Aug 26, 2014 at 11:45 PM

      maybe. about half of them yes.

      this year will show whether or not he could be a second line center on any 30 of them.

  5. hockey412 - Aug 27, 2014 at 9:03 AM

    Well, they keep drafting top 6 wings, it’d be nice to see one work. The top 6 guys they have are Kunitz (plays well with both Crosby and Malking), Dupuis, Hornqvist, Bennett, Kapanen…hopefully they’ll find the chemistry they need early and stick with it. Changing up the lines deep in the playoffs to find chemistry is a little late.

  6. pitpenguinsrulez - Aug 27, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    Malkin did just fine with Sykora, Malone, and Talbot during the Cup Runs

  7. hockey412 - Aug 27, 2014 at 8:56 AM

    To sit and watch the games with him from the bench?

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