Part 2: Competition Is The Tradition
Fresh off of a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1992, the Pittsburgh Penguins ought to be hungrier than ever to claim the NHL’s greatest prize. The Penguins had a fairly substantial turnover during the offseason, highlited by Marian Hossa, but on the same token, they didn’t start last season with him last year either. Ryan Malone is another big name who departed this offseason, and since he is a forward, he meets all the criteria now to play for the Lightning. However, general manager Ray Shero brought reinforcements in the form of former Islanders Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko.
So let’s take a look at who will be competing for positioning within the lineup…
The first line once again has questions surrounding wingers. Sidney Crosby will center a line that likely will feature Satan to his right. However, the left wing spot could be grabbed by any number of players. Fedotenko or Jordan Staal could see some time there, but Crosby’s game may be a little too quick. I wouldn’t bet on it, but Finnish star Janne Pesonen could find a place there with an amazing (and I mean, amazing) training camp.
In all likelihood, we’ll see this line rotate in wingers to see whether they can find some semblance of chemistry. Pens fans could expect to see everyone from Fedotenko to Maxime Talbot trying to keep up with Crosby. Don’t forget about Pascal Dupuis (once a 20-goal scorer on Minnesota) as he looks to regain his form as a goal scorer.
Evgeni Malkin will be featured prominently on the Penguins second line and to his right likely will be a familiar face in Petr Sykora. On the left, it’s conceivable that Fedotenko will do his best to fill the shoes left vacant by Malone. However, Staal and Pesonen (again, tremendous camp is assumed) are two players who could see some minutes here as well.
Michel Therrien is known, maybe infamous, for his line combinations that may or may not be influenced by the game musical chairs. Talbot, Dupuis and Matt Cooke could earn time up here in the top six as well.
As is the case with most NHL clubs, the third line is very fluid. A player who lost his spot in the top six, whether he is Staal, Fedotenko or Dupuis, will feature in here. This may be the starting place for Staal opening day as he tries to cure the snakebite that poisoned him all last season. _ Talbot’s_ emergence may warrant him to slide up to be a permanent third liner. Recently signed agitator Cooke will likely be installed on one of the wings as well.
It’s not out of the ordinary to think that industrious forward Tyler Kennedy could find some time on the third line, especially if he starts chipping in offensively. He proved to be one of the hardest working Penguins on the ice, especially in the playoffs.
Obviously, the fourth line will consist of players who did not cut it on the third line. It’s not unreasonable to think that Talbot could start out here just because of the numbers game at center for the Pens. However, Jeff Taffe and Kris Beech both are eyeing up spots on the fourth line. The ornery gentleman, Eric Godard, will be found in these parts when he’s not in the press box.
Since Therrien tries to establish the cycle down low with the lower lines, it seems unlikely that an offensive player like Pesonen would end up here. However, this could finally be the year that Jonathan Filewich steps up and gets a spot on the team. The same could be said for Ryan Stone. Group VI free agent signee and Pittsburgh-native Bill Thomas could steal a spot as well; however, he will need to show more in his all-around game in order for him to be a legitimate threat on the lower lines.
Bottom Pairing and Seventh Defenseman
Sergei Gonchar, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang are all locks to be dressed nightly, as far as I’m concerned, especially with Whitney injured. With the top four seeming pretty well intact, despite the injury to Ryan Whitney, I’ll focus on the guys who could rotate in and out of the lineup.
Hal Gill likely will be an anchor who will see quality minutes. Mark Eaton has shown stretches of very astute play in between injuries. He could be a diamond in the rough for the Pens. Darryl Sydor, everyone’s favorite healthy scratch, also could see some increased ice time (an increase from none) with Whitney down.
Rob Scuderi has, somewhat surprisingly, established himself as a solid sixth defenseman for the club. Already, though, that’s seven defensemen and Whitney still is on injured reserve. At one point, Sydor likely will be shown the door, and when Whitney comes back the Pens can get back to seven rearguards.
As for now, the only player who has any real shot at earning a spot from the AHL is offensive defenseman Alex Goligoski. The youngster really would benefit from another year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, as it doesn’t seem likely the former Golden Gopher is NHL-ready.
The player who has the pleasure of watching Marc-Andre Fleury for the better part of the season likely will be Dany Sabourin, who has little competition in the organization. John Curry is next in line, and this season will be a good barometer for him and what his future may hold.
Currently, the Penguins organization has a fairly definitive line that separates NHL-caliber and minor leaguers. Prospects Gianluca Caputi and Nick Johnson seem to have the NHL in their sights. But, _ Stone_, Beech, Taffe, Thomas, Filewich and Connor James seem to be nothing more than borderline NHLers at this point.
On the blueline, Goligoski is a legitimate prospect. After him, Joey Mormina and left winger/defenseman Paul Bissonnette are organizational depth and nothing more. Danny Richmond is an offensive seventh or eighth defenseman at the NHL level and cannot be counted for much more than that.
The 2009 draft will be important for the Penguins. As their prospects graduate, the organizational depth has begun to dwindle somewhat. However, the NHL team is still one of the youngest around, so the panic buttons can be left alone for the time being. The idea of scouting European teams and finding diamonds in the rough, like SM-Liiga star Pesonen, is very good thinking and could pay dividends to the organization.