Penguins Start the New Year Off Right; The Top Six Still Remains a Question Moving Forward

With the injury list for Pittsburgh starting to cool down in the New Year, the Penguins looked to regain their top form.

Unfortunately for the Penguins, an injury to top six forward Pascal Dupuis has left a major void in the roster. His top end speed and defensively responsible style made him a very good compliment to the offensive powers that are Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.

In his absence, Pittsburgh was able to go 9-2-1 in January. Crosby had his production dip slightly into the range of 1.3 points per game, just below his 1.45 ppg career average. Since his departure Crosby has had a revolving door of wingers including the following: Tanner Glass, Jayson Megna, Brandon Sutter, Taylor Pyatt, Jussi Jokinen, and Brian Gibbons.

Highlight wins against the Canadiens, Canucks, Rangers, and Kings gave Pittsburgh a successful month.

Pittsburgh has been reportedly involved in trade discussions to find a replacement winger; however, there is an indication that Pittsburgh might be searching for a third line winger instead of a top six forward.

If the latter is the case, one can speculate that the return of Beau Bennett places him beside Crosby on the top line. Bennett, on IR for a wrist injury, is a heads up budding power forward. He is strong, although lacking in size, and has tremendous vision. He works well in the low cycle game and could prove to be a strong fit with Crosby and Kunitz.

If this is the path that Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma plan to go with, the trade market becomes simpler for the Penguins. Acquiring a strong bodied and able skating third line winger would surely be easier and cheaper. Names such as Steve Ott and Devin Setoguchi have been linked to Pittsburgh, but the latter does not make as much sense.

Setoguchi was a UFA last season and Pittsburgh showed little interest in signing the winger. To be honest, many teams stayed away as Setoguchi settled into a contract with the Winnipeg Jets.

Ott could be an interesting choice for Pittsburgh. He is a strong body who is offensively capable, but plays the role of the instigator well. The problem for Pittsburgh is his salary and the return Buffalo would want for the current captain.

If Pittsburgh chooses to make a trade, one should expect a mid level draft selection and defensive prospect to be dealt, a package that would not bring back a top six forward.

On the Kris Letang front, many have speculated a possible trade. The problem is that Letang currently ranks tops among defensemen in goals, while missing 20 games, and he has been a minute munching defensemen for the Penguins over the past few seasons.

 Then there is the massive contract that he had signed over the offseason. If Letang were to be traded, he would have to go to a contender looking for someone to give them a strong edge on the back end. The return would have to be a legitimate top six scoring winger on the verge of stardom who is locked up for years to come. It just does not make sense for the Penguins to pursue this route at this point in time.

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Pittsburgh will head into the Olympic break playing Phoenix, Ottawa, Buffalo, and the New York Rangers. A strong finish heading into the break could determine the Penguins trade route.

With seven Olympians on the Penguins roster there will be planet to watch during the break. An in-depth breakdown of their possible roles for their respective teams will be coming shortly.