Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself with this one—much like predicting college football rankings the day after the national championship—but it's always fun to get a head start.
The Pittsburgh Penguins suffered a disappointing and unexpected end to their season with a Game Seven loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but with a roster full of talent and youth, the cliché "there's always next year" couldn't apply more.
Free agency will obviously bring about a new look for the Pens. The four UFAs whom I suspect won't be wearing a Penguins jersey come the start of next year are Sergei Gonchar, Jay McKee, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Ruslan Fedotenko.
Pens' GM Ray Shero will undoubtedly bring in guys from outside the Penguins organization to fill the void the leaving free agents will create.
With that being said, I will only consider players who are currently in the Penguins' system in taking the first look at the 2010-2011 Pittsburgh Penguins roster.
Line One: LW Chris Kunitz - C Sidney Crosby - RW Eric Tangradi
No surprise with the Crosby-Kunitz combination; they've been strong together since Kunitz joined the Pens during the 2008-2009 season.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Eric Tangradi, you better become so.
The 6'4, 220 lb., 21 year-old winger has been deemed the future winger of Sidney Crosby since he came over from the Anaheim Ducks, in the same trade that brought Chris Kunitz.
His size and ability to score around the net makes him a perfect candidate for a long-term winger of Crosby's and a potential candidate to park his behind in front of the net on the first power play unit.
Look for Tangradi to make some noise next season.
Line Two: LW Pascal Dupuis - C Evgeni Malkin - RW Bill Guerin
Nothing novel on this line. The only question here is if Bill Guerin will in fact return to play another year.
If he does, I think Tangradi will take his spot on the first line, leaving the only fit for him being the second line with Malkin and Dupuis, who had an impressive 18-goal campaign in the 2009-2010 regular season.
Line Three: LW Matt Cooke - C Jordan Staal - RW Max Talbot
Being that I believe the Pens will sign UFA Matt Cooke this offseason, he will fit right back in on Jordan Staal's third line.
Instead of Tyler Kennedy on Staal's opposite side, I'd like to see Max Talbot.
Both guys bring a great amount of energy to the ice, and both fit in well with the third line's grind-it-out style, but Talbot is the more talented player of the two and gets my nod for the third line.
Line Four: LW Mike Rupp - C Craig Adams - RW Tyler Kennedy
Coach Dan Bylsma likes to run all four lines so the Pens need a fourth line capable of producing. This fourth line has the physicality, talent, and speed (thanks to Kennedy) to do so, though don't be surprised to see Mark Letestu threaten to take Rupp or Kennedy's spot in the lineup next season.
First Defensive Pairing: Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Letang and Orpik have played together before and are the most physical defensemen that the Penguins have.
As long as Letang learns to be more careful with the puck, him and Orpik serve to be the Pens most reliable defensive pairing of the 2010-2011 season.
Second Defensive Pairing: Alex Goligoski - Jordan Leopold
Goligoski and Leopold played as a pairing after Leopold was acquired from the Panthers.
Both guys have good speed, both guys are offensively capable, but both guys need to do a better job of taking care of the puck.
Third Defensive Pairing: Mark Eaton - Ben Lovejoy
Eaton has been a solid defensemen for the Pens for five years. He'll never put up flashy numbers, but he rarely makes mistakes.
Eaton's calm demeanor will be beneficial to the development of Ben Lovejoy, who has spent his past two years playing for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Goalies: Marc-Andre Fleury - Brent Johnson
There has been a lot of criticism thrown toward Marc-Andre Fleury after a below average playoff season this year.
It should be interesting to see how the 25 year-old will rebound after an inconsistent 2009-2010 season.
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