Summer Skate: Pittsburgh Penguins

Using the VUKOTA projection system of Hockey Prospectus, Insider takes the temperature of key players on every NHL team, continuing with Pittsburgh. For a detailed explanation of Prospectus' proprietary GVT value metric, read more here.

Summer Skate -- Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins nearly won the Eastern Conference regular-season race without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. That fact alone should have fans excited to see what this team can do in the 2011-12 campaign. Although Crosby's status remains uncertain as he recovers from a concussion suffered in January, Malkin figures to be back and ready to start the season. And the projections show that the All-Star center should provide a very welcome boost for the Pens.

Trending up: C Evgeni Malkin
Last season: 3.5 GVT | VUKOTA projection: 9.5 GVT

Already three seasons ago now, Malkin's breakout campaign of 2008-09 -- when he captured the Art Ross Trophy for most points in the regular season and the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP -- seems far off in the rearview mirror.

The past two seasons, Malkin has taken big steps backward in games played -- from 82 to 67 to 43 -- and in per-game production, from 1.38 to 1.15 to a sub-elite 0.86 points per game.

Some of that can be chalked up to bad luck, though, including a career-low 8.2 percent shooting percentage.