2014 Outlook: Can we blame Crosby for suffering yet another injury-shortened campaign last season? It's difficult to say he is brittle when it's an errant puck that slammed into his face. Then again, it has been four seasons since Crosby graced us with a full campaign. It did appear as though he was back to full speed from his head-injury woes last season, but there is always a lingering risk of re-injury with such ailments. We do know that Crosby will put up drool-worry fantasy stats when he is on the ice, to the extent that we would suggest using the second-overall pick to acquire him. His ability to completely dominate the game stuffs almost all the relevant fantasy categories you are looking for. If Crosby can play all 82 games, he will be in contention for the Art Ross Trophy, but we suspect he will miss a game here or there due to his all-out style of play.
2014 Outlook: The upside is so scary good with Malkin, but the injury history is almost more troubling than that of teammate Sidney Crosby. While Crosby's particular head injury was perhaps more troubling from a long-term perspective, Malkin has provided us with just one healthy and productive campaign in the past four seasons, and even that season saw him miss seven games. But in that 75-game campaign in 2011-12, Malkin provided fantasy owners with a glimpse of just how great he can be. Those 50 goals and 109 points just two seasons ago are not to be dismissed in a fantasy draft. The Penguins are still stacked enough on offense to keep Crosby and Malkin both busy, even on separate lines. And it's inevitable that the dynamic duo will be paired on the power play, which was as dominant as ever in 2013. We could split hairs all day over the order in which Crosby, Malkin and Alex Ovechkin come off the board, but we'll take Malkin's recent performance history as a trump card on Ovechkin.
2014 Outlook: Skill plus opportunity; that's the essential formula for hammering out any single player's fantasy value from a wide spectrum of relevant sports. And Kris Letang is a top beneficiary of both. One of the most gifted offensive defensemen in the league, Letang also reaps the ultra-rich rewards of playing regularly with the likes of forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Chris Kunitz. If anyone is going to knock a healthy Erik Karlsson off his projected top-producer's pedestal, our money is on Letang. Plus, the 26-year-old plays a ton of minutes and his plus/minus is beyond reproach. Feel free to draft him super early.
2014 Outlook: What Kunitz turned in from a value standpoint last season was beyond exceptional. He was selected in most fantasy leagues, but not as a top forward. He was probably your fourth winger or sixth forward, but turned in fantasy value comparable to that of the very best NHL players. Let's not mince words here: Kunitz rode Sidney Crosby's coattails every step of the way to that value. Now, that isn't a knock on Kunitz in any way. As we've seen over the seasons, not just anybody can ride coattails and turn in ridiculous fantasy value. Being a star by association is a skill in and of itself. However, at the end of the day, Kunitz is still a star by association. Without Crosby at his side, he might not have any fantasy value at all. Now that we've been clear about that, here is the good news. Kunitz is going to line up beside Crosby again, play with Evgeni Malkin on the power play and have Malkin to fall back on if anything should befall Crosby. As stars by association go, Kunitz is in a pretty darn good situation.
2014 Outlook: Though Neal's second season with the Penguins wasn't as spectacular as the first, it is a better example of what we should expect going forward. While Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz will create a dangerous top line for the Pens, Evgeni Malkin and Neal are more than an adequate secondary attack. Then there is the power play, where Crosby, Kunitz, Malkin and Neal all come together to create a force that few teams can stop. Neal will generate plenty of his fantasy value from the power play, top it off at even strength and give you great return on your investment. As with Kunitz, there is less risk to Neal's star by association status with the Penguins because the team boasts two superstar centerman. If one goes down, you can be sure that a top supporting talent like Neal will join with the other.
2014 Outlook: The Penguins' postseason ended early again in 2013, and it was due in part to the fact that Fleury has not performed well recently in the playoffs. For our purposes, however, Fleury's regular season work has been quite superb, and he finished the 2013 campaign as the No. 12 goalie on the Player Rater, with 23 wins (one behind the league lead), a 2.39 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. If we somehow block the recent playoff debacles out of memory, he'd be a fine choice as a low-end No. 1. However, we don't live in that sort of vacuum, and there's every reason to believe that the Pens will operate out of somewhat of a timeshare in net, with reliable veteran Tomas Vokoun certainly capable of handling his end of the bargain. As such, Fleury should be drafted as a No. 2 option, with the hope that he can right the ship.
2014 Outlook: Getting one of the better wingman assignments in the world, Dupuis earns a ton of fantasy value he would not otherwise have because he plays with Sidney Crosby. Dupuis turned in almost a decade of underwhelming fantasy performances before landing on a line with Crosby. But now, Dupuis could possibly generate a 30-goal season and approach 60 points with a soaring plus/minus. Honestly, if he turns in a season on the pace he did in 2013, he'll be a top-30 forward. But because Dupuis would be irrelevant to fantasy leagues without Crosby at his side, it's dangerous to invest too heavily in him. If you are not averse to risk with stars-by-association, Dupuis is a nice option.
2014 Outlook: Martin is a good enough puck-moving defenseman, playing on a great enough goal-scoring team to warrant attention as a solid third defenseman on most fantasy rosters. As long as Kris Letang remains fit, Martin won't be any more than that, of course "that" isn't too shabby.
2014 Outlook: After another playoff meltdown by Marc-Andre Fleury, Vokoun was brought in as the Pens' starter, and played quite admirably -- in 11 playoff games, he posted a 2.01 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. However, it's the regular season with which we concern ourselves, and there's no guarantee that he'll produce up to that level, nor is there any guarantee that he'll even have the chance. The Pens remain committed to Fleury as their franchise netminder, so Vokoun's work will come as the lower half of a timeshare. That noted, he is one of the more reliable options as a rotational player in fantasy, so he's worth a late-round pick, especially given his upside if Fleury doesn't turn things around. After all, if Vokoun winds up being the Pens' No. 1, he'll be in line to be a fantasy No. 1 as well.