Alex Nedeljkovic, Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

Penguins’ Underrated MVPs

With a little more than half the season gone, the Pittsburgh Penguins are very much in control of their own playoff destiny and there are a few players who deserve some recognition for their performance up to this point. There is no doubt that captain Sidney Crosby is the team’s most valuable player and should be in the Hart Trophy conversation this season. However, the Penguins have some underrated MVPs who also deserve to be highlighted. 

Alex Nedeljkovic 

The Penguins signed Alex Nedeljkovic to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million in July 2023. This signing has proved to be one of the best decisions president of hockey operations/general manager Kyle Dubas has made so far. Nedeljkovic had a good rookie season in 2020-21 with the Carolina Hurricanes, finishing the season with a 15-5-3 record and third in the voting for the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year. 

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Nedeljkovic has struggled since his rookie year, and it was unclear which version of him the Penguins would get. So far this season through 16 games, he has eight wins, a 2.60 goals against average (GAA) and a .918 save percentage (SV%). He is always calm and composed in net and he can be trusted to do his job. He is a massive upgrade from former backup goalie Casey DeSmith and is a huge reason why Pittsburgh still has a decent chance of making the postseason. 

Jake Guentzel 

Another underrated MVP this year has been Jake Guentzel, who has been at the center of various trade rumors lately. In 47 games this season, he has scored 22 goals and has 28 assists for 50 points and is trailing the team-leading Crosby by only one point. He just played in his 500th career game on Feb. 6 in the Penguins 3-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

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Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Guentzel has become a staple to the Penguins’ top line, and he would be almost impossible to replace. He is rarely out of position and knows how to get to the soft scoring areas. If he is given even the smallest space on the ice, he will make his opponent pay. He has become a legitimate superstar in his own right, and it is hard to see a way for Pittsburgh to make the playoffs without him. 

Kris Letang 

Kris Letang has been one of the defensive pillars in the Penguins’ organization for almost two decades. This season, he has been given somewhat of a reduced role due to the addition of fellow defensemen Erik Karlsson. His work on special teams has been outstanding, and his commitment to stay competitive is a true testament to who he is as a player. Through 47 games, he has scored four goals and had 26 assists for 30 points, has been is the best defender in his own zone, and is playing like a number-one defenseman night in and night out. 

Penguins’ Honorable Mentions

Tristan Jarry and Marcus Pettersson have also played extremely well this year. Jarry started the season off a little rocky but quickly turned things around. He currently leads the league in shutouts, posting his sixth on Feb. 6 against the Jets. His SV% is up to a .916 in all situations, and his goaltending is a huge reason why the Penguins are fifth-best in the NHL in goals allowed per game.

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Pettersson has been one of the steadiest defensive players this season and both Karlsson and Letang have seen their best five-on-five play come when being paired with him. It is not a stretch to compare him to a young Brian Dumoulin. He will never be a huge producer on offense, but he is the perfect complement to a strong player who can produce offense on the blue line.

There is no question the Penguins have the talent to make the postseason. They have some very winnable games coming up as February deepends, and they need to take advantage of that because they have some ground to make up

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