Who will play with Mario?

By Stephen Payne

Who will play with Mario???

Coming off a Cinderella comeback, “Le Magnifique,” Mario Lemieux, wants to
win the scoring title this upcoming season. To do this, he must have some
quality linemates. So far, none of them have been announced. Here is a
detailed look at a few candidates:

Kris Beech:
At 20 years old, many believe he is ready for the big time. He is a tall,
rangy center that is a talented passer and has great vision. He is a quality
prospect with plenty of speed.

Reasons why he and Mario may be a match: Playing with Lemieux for
Wilkes-Barre in the preseason game, he and Mario were amazing together. They
cycled down low a countless number of times and had many give-and-goes.
Beech’s speed allows him to keep up with Mario. He is also a very good
two-way player, which may be helpful if Mario loses the puck in the offensive

Reasons why it may not happen: There is no guarantee that Beech will even
make the team. Patrick may want his potential all-star to mature in
Wilkes-Barre. Also, if he makes the team, Hlinka may want to start him on
the fourth line, just because he is a rookie. Another factor may be that
Hlinka would want Lemieux to play center and take face offs. He could decide
to move Beech to a wing. He has played wing before in junior, but it would
probably hinder his development. If Beech plays with Mario, he will most
likely play center. Whatever happens this season, I expect to see him play
with Mario later on in his career.

Jan Hrdina:
Only 25, Hrdina is going into his fourth season in the National Hockey
League. He is a good defensive center who plays a solid, all-around game.
He does not have many weaknesses and always seems to be in perfect position.

Reasons why he and Mario may be a match: With Mario being a more
offensive-minded player, Hlinka may want to put him with a player that plays
well defensively. Hrdina is also a good passer and has a good shot. He can
play left wing or center. So if he plays with Mario, he would be moved to

Reasons why it may not happen: Hrdina is known for trying to force the pass.
When he played with Jagr, he was always criticized for this, and being on the
ice with Mario, it would be hard to resist. Sometimes, he just needs to rip
the puck at the net.

Alexei Kovalev:
One of the most talented players in the NHL right now, Kovy could make
Lemieux’s season a remarkable one. He is best known for his amazing speed
and puck-handling skills, which he sometimes uses to drive passed 3 or 4
opponents at one time. Although, he is not the smartest player. A lot of
times, he over handles the puck and is caught out of position. Regardless,
his skill is world class.

Reasons why he and Mario may be a match: His speed, stick handling, passing,
and shot make him one of the most skilled players in the NHL. You put him
and Mario together, and you could see 100 goals between them. In fact, I
know you will see 100 goals between them.

Reasons why it may not happen: There are two very good reasons why Hlinka may
not do this: Number one: Balance. Hlinka realizes that if he does this, he
would put two of his best players on the same line. That would mean one
dominant line and three other average lines. Although, one could argue that
with Straka and Lang, it does not matter. Number two: Last year, the
Straka-Lang-Kovalev line became one of the best lines in hockey. The
chemistry that they built up would be all gone if Kovalev plays with Mario.

Aleksey Morozov
At age 24, Morozov has plenty of experience in the NHL. His natural talent
has allowed him to make it to the big leagues early. He is an effortless
skater who plays his position. Although over the past three years, he has
been an underachiever. He just can not put it all together. Sometimes, it
seems like he is not even trying. Playing with Mario would change all of

Reasons why he and Mario may be a match: If he is put with Mario, it would
not be to benefit Mario but to benefit him. It may force him to lift his
game to a new level. I think if Morozov puts all of his skills together this
season, he can score as many as 40 points along side Mario. It would
definitely boost his confidence.

Reasons why it may not happen: Even though it may be good for Morozov, it may
not be good for Mario, and who knows how much time he has left? If I was
Hlinka, I would want to get the most I could out of Mario, and to do that,
Lemieux may need a better linemate than Morozov.

Wayne Primeau
At 25, I believe that Primeau has not reached his full potential. He only
scored 22 points last season. I think that if he is put under the right
conditions, he will become a good, solid third liner. He looks bigger than
the 6’3, 220 lbs. that he is listed as. He uses his frame effectively,
especially along the boards. His puck-handling and passing are also ideal
for a third liner. Although, his shot is pretty weak (3 goals in 75 games
last year). Further more, his skating is below average for an NHLer.

Reasons why he and Mario may be a match: First, he takes the body and is not
afraid to mix it up. Mario usually appreciates that kind of toughness in a
player. Second, he is a good passer and could easily hit Mario with a good,
solid pass from his own zone. Also, last year, he played a few games with
Mario and did not look too bad.

Reasons why it may not happen: Although Mario likes tough players on his
team, but I do not know if it would be best to put a tough guy along side
him. An ideal linemate for him would probably be a first or second liner
with decent skills. I do not know if Primeau could keep up with Mario.

Stephane Richer
At 35, Richer decided to come back to the game he loved. I would not be
surprised if Mario was his inspiration. Once a 50-goal scorer, Richer still
has the shot that terrifies goalies, a low, hard, accurate slapper. He is
not that bad of a skater from what I’ve seen, considering he has been away
from hockey for a year. He is also a feisty player; sometimes receiving
close to 300 penalty minutes in a season. However, I am not sure how rough
he will be now that he is older.

Reasons why he and Mario may be a match: Plain and simple: Richer is a
sniper. Mario loves to use his teammates in every situation possible. With
Mario feeding Richer the puck, he may be able to get 25 goals this season.
Not to say that Richer can’t pass; he is a decent passer, who will pay Mario
back for his generosity. Also, his feistiness will be welcome by Mario.

Reasons why it may not happen: After seeing him in some preseason games, I
can say that there is a little bit of rust; although, you can see the skills
are still there. Unfortunately, that little bit of rust could cost him big.
As of right now, he is by no means a lock for the Pens. There are a lot of
young kids coming up this year, but if he makes it, I give it a fifty-fifty
chance that he will play along side Mario.

Kevin Stevens
Stevens seems to have regained some of that killer instinct that he was so
famous for in the early ‘90’s. He plays a tough game and comes to play every
night. Although, he is not the best skater, his work ethic compensates for
it. With the puck, he is not that bad; however, he is nowhere near the form
that he was on the Pens’ cup teams.

Reasons why he and Mario may be a match: First, he has played with Mario more
than anyone else on the team. He played with him on the cup teams, and he
played with him a little bit last year. The main reason why he has been so
successful playing with Mario is because he drives to the net with authority.
Mario gets the puck to the net, while Stevens is in charge of making sure it
goes in.

Reasons why it may not happen: He is not the best defensive player. Late
last year, he was taken off of Mario’s line and was replaced by Hrdina
because of his below-par, defensive play. Mario likes to take the puck
through the neutral zone. He needs somebody to stay back and cover for him
if he turns it over. Also, like Primeau, I am concerned that he may not be
able to keep up with Mario.