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The NHL season is getting closer and closer (only 32 days!), and fans are already taking their best guesses as to what their favorite team¡¯s opening lineup will be. This season, the Pittsburgh Penguins¡¯ lineup looks to be significantly different than it was last season. Here¡¯s a breakdown as to what the Penguins¡¯ lineup could look like as the season prepares to open.First line: Perron-Crosby-Kessel Penguins coach Mike Johnston recently said that Phil Kessel will most likely start the season with Sidney Crosby, and that Patric Hornqvist will slot to the right of Evgeni Malkin. The left wing spots on the Penguins¡¯ top six look to be up for grabs, however, David Perron seems to be the front-runner for that first line spot.Perron started out red hot last year with the Penguins after he was acquired from Edmonton, scoring six goals in his first nine games. However, he suffered an injured rib soon after that outburst, which affected his production down the stretch. But a healthy Perron could be a good fit with Crosby and Kessel since he¡¯s a good goal scorer and a very good play maker. If Perron does come back healthy, he could have the opportunity to recapture the mojo that he had with Crosby last season before his injury and prove that he belongs on the top line.
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Second line: Kunitz-Malkin-Hornqvist Evgeni Malkin will already have one good winger on his line to start the season in Patric Hornqvist (who works very well with Malkin), but the other side is a mystery. My prediction: Chris Kunitz will earn that spot on the left wing and have a bounce-back year for the Penguins. Last year was just a fluke for him; his broken foot cut his season short, and that was one of the biggest reasons why he didn¡¯t have a good year.He¡¯s a possession monster for Pittsburgh which is backed up by his very good HERO chart (which measures goals per game, how good he makes his linemates, etc), and one bad (and injury plagued) season isn¡¯t enough to drop his stock too far with the team. This season, he¡¯s going to show that he can still score, especially playing with one of the best players in the world in Evgeni Malkin.Third line: Plotnikov-Bonino-Dupuis This third line could be the best the Penguins have had since the Matt Cooke, Jordan Staal, and Tyler Kennedy line in 2009 where they all had double digit goal amounts which is something the Penguins don¡¯t normally have on their third line. And once Eric Fehr comes back, it will look even better. On the left side is the biggest wild card on this team in Sergei Plotnikov, who Pittsburgh signed from the KHL. He could break camp in the top six with Malkin, or he could be down here on the third line. It might take some time for him to adapt to the North American style of hockey, which is why I predict he¡¯s on the third line to start the season. He will score around 10-20 goals next season if he plays his best.
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With Fehr out to start the season, Nick Bonino will open the season as the third line center after he was acquired from Vancouver in the Brandon Sutter trade. He¡¯s one of the most underrated players on the Penguins, and always makes his linemates better, according to his HERO chart. He also had a 20 goal season a couple seasons ago in Anaheim, and with the puck possesion style the Penguins play, he should easily reach that total.Flanking him on the right side will be Pascal Dupuis, who is coming back from a career-threatening blood clot and has been sidelined since November. The Penguins surely do miss him when he¡¯s out because he¡¯s an excellent depth scorer and a great penalty killer. I expect Dupuis will remind everyone just how good he was before his devastating illness, and score around 15 goals next year since he will be playing with two very good players. The Penguins should score around 40-50 goals from their third line this upcoming season. That would be the most the Penguins third line has scored since 2009 when that line had 50 goals.Fourth line: Sheary-Cullen-Bennett The third line is not the only group where the Penguins will see an increase in production. The days of Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale, Max Lapierre, and Craig Adams on their fourth line are over. Now they have guys on here that can actually score. Connor Sheary is one of the young Penguins prospects from down in Wilkes-Barre and he deserves a roster spot to start the season. He¡¯s the fast and skilled young forward the Penguins have badly needed on their fourth line.Centering the line will be 38-year-old Matt Cullen, who was signed just a few weeks ago. Last year in Nashville, he had seven goals and 25 points, which is great for a fourth line center. On the other side