Pittsburgh Penguins superstar center Sidney Crosby is tied for the team lead in scoring with six points (three goals, three assists) through six games, but his extraordinary talents are being underutilized because he doesn't have a top-tier winger alongside him.
Four days into free agency last year, Penguins general manager Ray Shero talked about getting a better winger for his best player (via Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette):
Seth Rorabaugh @SethRorabaugh
Shero on finding a winger for Crosby: "If we could, it would be fantastic. It would make life a lot easier."7/4/2012, 7:10:24 PM
Unfortunately for Crosby, the search for a better winger is still ongoing.
Veteran wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis have played with Crosby on the Penguins' top line for quite some time, and even though Crosby doesn't have any trouble being productive offensively with these players, he would be far more effective with a true sniper on his wing.
Not since Marian Hossa was acquired by Pittsburgh before the trade deadline during the 2007-08 season has Crosby played with a star player on one of his wings. The 25-year-old star had 73 points in just 53 games that season.
Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin has an elite winger in James Neal alongside him, and the results have been extremely positive since the two teamed up late in the 2010-11 season. Malkin won the Hart Trophy last season and Neal scored a career-high 40 goals. Both players havel started the 2013 season well.
It's time for Shero to be more aggressive in his search for a top-tier winger to play with Crosby. Let's look at three wingers he should pursue before the April 3 trade deadline.
Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
Phil Kessel is a pure goal scorer and has the speed and hockey smarts to thrive with Crosby as his center.
The Toronto Maple Leafs' star is a lock to score 35 to 40 goals in a full 82-game season, and hasn't played with a true No. 1 center in his three-plus seasons with the Leafs.
Having Kessel on his line would also help Crosby score more goals because the Leafs' winger is a creative playmaker who is capable of setting up teammates with quality scoring chances.
Kessel's passing ability is an underrated part of his remarkable offensive skill set, and his assist totals have increased in each of the last four seasons.
When searching for the perfect sniper to play with Crosby, Shero should look no further than Kessel. He has just one year (after 2012-13) left on his current contract, and maybe he would be available before the April 3 trade deadline if Toronto feels he won't re-sign before the summer of 2014.
Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames
Iginla has never won a Stanley Cup, and would add some needed determination and hunger to a Penguins team that has a lot of players with championship experience.
The Calgary Flames' captain is one of the most consistent players in the league, and has scored 30 or more goals in 11 straight seasons. Iginla has never played with a playmaker as talented as Crosby, so it would be exciting to watch how many goals these two would create on the same line.
Not only is Iginla an ideal fit for the Penguins because of his goal scoring ability and the toughness he brings to the ice each game, his right-hand shot would be a huge boost to the Pittsburgh power-play. A powerful right-hand shot is something the Penguins lack right now.
Iginla is currently in the final year of his contract with a $7 million salary cap hit. If he wants to leave Calgary to pursue a Stanley Cup title, playing with his Team Canada teammate Crosby would be a smart move.
Since the Penguins have several quality defensemen in their system who project to be solid NHL players, they are a good trade partner for the Flames because Calgary doesn't have a lot of top-tier defensive talent/depth throughout its organization.
Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks
Throughout last season, Anaheim Ducks winger Bobby Ryan was involved in several trade rumors that linked him to a number of teams across the NHL.
Those rumors have not surfaced yet this season, but there's no question that teams needing a goal scoring winger with size and strength could look at Ryan as a major upgrade.
Ryan hasn't scored fewer than 31 goals in any of his four full seasons as an NHL player, and is one of the most skilled power forwards in the league. Ryan also would upgrade the Penguins' power-play as he has averaged 16.25 power-play points over the last four years.
The Penguins don't have an elite power forward, so acquiring Ryan would address two of the team's biggest weaknesses (new winger for Crosby and more size in top-six). Ryan also has two more years left on his contract with a very manageable $5.1 million cap hit.
The Ducks don't have a lot of top defensive prospects in their system, so the Penguins should be able to find a deal that works for both sides with their abundance of quality young defenseman.
On an interesting note, Crosby and Ryan were the first and second overall picks, respectively, in the 2005 NHL draft. The only teammates in the NHL who were the top two picks in the same draft are Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau (1997) of the San Jose Sharks.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report, follow him on Twitter.
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