Other than your obvious candidates, Erik Christensen--to me-- is the most crucial player on the Penguins this year....As outrageous as it sounds, here's why...
The Penguins skill wingers are Petr Sykora, known to be a sniper but reportedly has lost a step and often goals cold, provides no physicality and defensively leaves desired. And the aging Mark Recchi who's slowing down and went on a 20+ goalless streak, despite playing almost every shift with the best player in the game.
That's it. Staal is a natural center learning the wing and the speed of the NHL, Roberts is a bruiser but prone to breaking down, Malone and Armstrong don't have the skill and consistency to produce points and are better served in other roles..
Erik Christensen converts to wing, supposedly to be given a shot on Crosby's left wing at least at first. Makes sense for EC, since there's a couple of pretty good centers in the organization.
Can he do it? The knock against Crusher all along has been his lack of physical play and poor results going into the corners to much out pucks. No one doubts his skill, he's a pure sniper who's got a great shot and a shootout move that makes him the leadoff hitter in the Pens lineup and earned him a share of the league's lead in shootout goals for all of last season with 8.
One other thing about Christensen, other than his 'money in the bank' shootout move, it surprises me how often he beats goaltenders from so far back with his wrist shot. Check the 18 second mark of this highlight. True, that's AHL, but I recall seeing that a couple of times in the NHL.
Watching Christensen's progress as a winger will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the early fall. EC scored 18 goals in the NHL in just 61 games last year, several of them he centered the 4th line with the likes of guys like Ruutu, Petrovicky and BGL. Putting that skill, that shot on Crosby's line could make for wonderful results. Sidney, Malkin, and Staal will get all the press and attention, while EC, calm as ever, could be on his way for 30+ goals.