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Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Few Takes on The Pens As They Start Training Camp by @MadChad412

I have no idea where the year went, but it is already mid-September and the Pittsburgh Penguins are already beginning training camp. The first preseason game is on Monday, September 22, and the regular season opener is less than a month away. It feels like it was just yesterday that the Pens were blowing a three-to-one series lead to the New York Rangers. Too soon? Do not worry, this is not a Rossi-like column writing off the Penguins chances before the season even begins. 

In fact, I actually believe that Pens' fans should feel more optimistic heading into the 2014-2015 NHL regular season. Former general manager Ray Shero and former head coach Dan Bylsma are both gone. Jim Rutherford and rookie coach Mike Johnston have replaced them. The Penguins have also added eccentric assistant coach Rick Tocchet to their coaching staff, which could help end the "Country club" narrative that surrounds the team's locker room. One of the reasons I feel optimistic and excited about this team is the changes to the coaching staff and front-office. I am not trying to bash Shero and Bylsma, but there comes a time where a team makes major changes, and when you have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on your team, those changes will most likely not be roster related.  Based on everything I have read about Johnston, the Penguins should be a much more fun team to watch. 

Despite what some of the critics have been saying, the Pens have actually improved their roster in terms of skill and depth. 

Let's take a look at who left and who was added to the team: 

Who left: 
Joe Vitale
Deryk Engelland
Lee Stempniak
Tanner Glass
Taylor Pyatt
Chuck Kobasew
Chris Conner
Jussi Jokinen
James Neal
Brooks Orpik
Matt Niskanen
Brian Gibbons
Harry Zolnierczyk 

Who's new: 
Blake Comeau
Steve Downie
Patric Hornqvist
Nick Spaling
Christian Ehrhoff
Daniel Carcillo (Has a tryout contract) 
Thomas Greiss 

There was some big moves made, most notably the trade that sent James Neal to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Enough has been written about the trade, and I think the trade could end up working for both teams. After researching and watching video on Hornqvist, I am excited about what he can bring to the team. I think he can be just as productive as Neal while adding some more speed and more consistent instances of crashing the net. Spaling is a terrible possession player, but he has been pretty productive for a bottom-six guy, and should still be seen as an upgrade over most of the bottom-six regulars on last years Pens' team. 

One guy that I am truly excited about is defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. Ehrhoff is one of the most underrated defenseman in the league. I love the high-reward low-risk signing of Ehrhoff, one-year $4 million. Ehrhoff is an upgrade over both Rob Scuderi and Brooks Oprik, and will help ease the loss of Matt Niskanen. Also, he gets bonus points for liking Batman. 

Big camp for some guys this year. The Penguins have a plethora of good young defensemen with only a few spots open on the actual NHL roster. The Pens have Scuderi, Paul Martin, Kris Letang, Ehrhoff, Olli Maatta, and Robert Bortuzzo all locked in, and Simon Despres and Philip Samuelsson are not waiver exempt. 

Originally, we thought that the new regime would be more willing to play the young talented guys unlike the old regime, but with few spots on the roster available, barring injuries I do not see that happening. Which is why Simon Despres needs to embrace this chance. There have been rumors of Despres having a bad attitude and a bad work ethic, but he has shown flashes of brilliance. He certainly has the skill to make an impact and should be a perfect fit for coach Johnston's system. Despres also has the fact that he would have to clear waivers in order to be sent down to the minors in his favor. 

Samuelsson would also have to clear waivers, and maybe the Pens might need to make that move anyways. Brian Dumoulin looks like he is NHL ready. Dumoulin is a former second-round pick that many think can be a top-four defenseman in this league. Dumoulin looks like a man against boys in the minors any more. There is also Derrick Pouliot, who has future All Star written all over him. Both of these guys could make an argument to stay up with the NHL Pens during training camp. 

At forward, we know that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Hornqvist, Spaling, Pascal Dupuis, Brandon Sutter, Blake Comeau, Steve Downie, Beau Bennett, Craig Adams (Unfortunately) and Marcel Goc will make the NHL roster. Although, perhaps the new regime, which doesn't have any real loyalty to an aging Craig Adams, will look to replace him with a more talented forward, perhaps like a Jayson Megna, or even tough-guy forward Dan Carcillo, who was brought in on a tryout contract. 

There is not much room for any forwards to surprise and make the team. Some people like Zach Sill getting a shot, but he doesn't have much skill and is a terrible possession player. I for one like seeing Megna getting a shot to replace Adams on the fourth line. Megna showed that he can play and produce at the NHL level in small spurts last year, and certainly has more speed and ability that Adams. Megna is on a two-way contract though and that will probably end up being his death wish. 

Beau Bennett is once again an x-factor. Pascal Dupuis is coming off a major knee injury and should honestly be a candidate to play with Sutter on the third line, although if Crosby is vouching for him to play on the top line, then he once again could be there. Bennett is a former first-round pick who has to finally prove himself. He has been inconsistent so far in the NHL, with a few flashes here and there of being the real deal. He certainly has the skill to play in the league, but he is soft on the puck and has struggled mightily to stay healthy. However, if Bennett could put it all together and be a decent top-9 forward for the Pens, it could certainly be a huge x-factor for a team that is very thin at forward. 

Here is a breakdown at who is and who is not exempt from waivers for the Pens: 

Waiver Exempt: Beau Bennett, Olli Maata, Kasperi Kapanen, Jayson Megna, Derrick Pouliot, Brian Demoulin, Oskar Sundqvist, Josh Archibald, Scott Wilson, Bryan Rust, Harrison Ruopp, Adam Payerl, Nick D'Agostino, Tristan Jarry, Matthew Murray, Anton Zlobin, Matia Marcantuoni, Dominik Uher, Tom Kuehnhackl, Scott Harrington, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Reid McNeill, Eric Hartzell, Bobby Farnham

Waiver Eligible: Simon Despres, Jeff Zatkoff, Taylor Chorney, Andrew Ebbett, P-L Letourneau-Leblond, Nicholas Drazenovic, Philip Samuelsson, Zach Sill, Spencer Machacek, Brendan Mikkelson

The Pens' bottom-six forwards were dreadful last year, but with the additions of Spaling, Downie, and Comeau, they should be vastly improved. I also like the re-signing of Marcel Goc, who is a really good fourth-line center and is good enough to play on the third-line. Here is a look at some of the bottom-six candidates this year versus the guys that played last year. Sutter is not included on the table. 

Other interesting story lines will be Olli Maatta trying to avoid a sophomore slump while battling a shoulder injury at the same time. Marc-Andre Fleury and Paul Martin both going into the last years of their contracts, as well as the fact the Pens have a rookie head coach that is going to implement a completely new system, for a team that is once again expected to make a run at the Stanley Cup finals. 

So Pens fans, there is a lot to be optimistic about for this upcoming season, despite what some other writers are trying to say. 

Pens' training camp roster this year will consist of 51 skaters (34 forwards and 17 defensemen) and six goaltenders. Camp begins tomorrow and there is an open practice this Saturday at 9am-12:45pm. The gates open at 8:30 am. 

1 comment:

  1. Let's ease up on Adams. The back line had a bad year last year and he's generally been a loyal, hard-working player and PK specialist for us. Played in the right role, I think outside of his leadership and experience, he could be an asset still. No doubt that a guy like Megna is the future but I am convinced that Adams has more in the tank and would be willing to give him another go to prove it.


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