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Joe Starkey: The Penguins aren't old, slow or done

By Joe Starkey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Hockey

PITTSBURGH - The Penguins were one of the oldest teams in the bubble, it's true. But that isn't necessarily the case moving forward. It's not like they'll be attending team-wide early bird specials before games next season.

In fact, once you say goodbye to 40-year-old Patrick Marleau (the Penguins surely will) and maybe 33-year-old Jack Johnson (they surely should), this team could enter next season with only four players in their 30s: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Patric Hornqvist, and who knows if they try to deal Hornqvist (they shouldn't)?

The Boston Bruins seem to be doing pretty well with a handful of guys in their 30s (Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Jaroslav Halak and 43-year-old Zdeno Chara). The key is to supplement those players with quality 20-somethings, because while aging stars can be major contributors, they don't usually carry teams to Cups. David Pastrnak, 23, became the Bruins' biggest star this season.

The Penguins have plenty of 20-something talent on their roster. They got younger, faster and feistier Tuesday afternoon, when general manager Jim Rutherford sent a first-round pick and other pieces to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a player Rutherford drafted, parlayed into Phil Kessel and has long since admired - speedy right winger Kasperi Kapanen.

The logical spot for Kapanen is Sidney Crosby's right wing (not sure if you've heard, but Sid needs a winger). That would potentially give the Penguins a top six of Jake Guentzel, 25, Crosby, Kapanen (turned 24 last month), Jason Zucker, 28, Malkin and Bryan Rust, 27. I'm thinking a lot of teams would trade for that top six.

Whether Kapanen can thrive alongside Crosby is of course an open question. Veteran reporter Ken Campbell of The Hockey News is based in Toronto, so he has seen plenty of Kapanen. I asked Campbell if he sees Kapanen as a fit for Crosby.

 

"I don't think he's the answer, but you never know," Campbell said. "There's a lot of guys like that, where their hand speed doesn't match their foot speed, and I think this is probably another one of those guys."

Fair enough, but a guy doesn't have to be Mike Bossy to play next to Crosby. He needs to think the game like him and play fast. Guys such as Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis were excellent linemates.

Critics trotted out Kapanen's questionable advanced stats Tuesday, but guess what? Those numbers might look a little different playing next to Crosby and Guentzel.

Crosby could bring out the best in Kapanen, who scored 20 goals two years ago. Shoot, if he can hit an empty net from the goal line, he'll be an upgrade from the likes of Dominik Simon. But if things don't work out there - and it's never a guarantee when you're attempting to collaborate with a great player - Kapanen could upgrade the bottom six.

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