“Lacing Up” makes its return after a more than one year hiatus. The late Ashley Gallant was the originator of “Lacing Up,” and its reincarnation is in her honor. Each week, Matt Bodenschatz and Zach Boslett will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF at week’s end. At times, guest writers may be introduced to further advance the conversation and/or to add an outsider’s perspective. We hope you enjoy, and we’d love to hear your ideas for future “Lacing Up” conversations.

Zach: One of Eric Tangradi or Brett Sterling likely will make the Penguins in a top-six role. I think Tangradi makes the team mainly due to the Staal injury. With Staal gone, they have lost a physical presence in top 6 ice time as well as an offensive force.

Tangradi can provide both. He hasn’t blown anyone out of the water in the preseason, but he hasn’t cost himself a spot either. I think he will earn a spot until Staal comes back. However, his play in Staal’s absence will decide whether or not he stays. I do like the mix of speed, size, skill, and creativity the line of Tangradi-Comrie-Malkin could have. Great potential there.

Matt: The last sentence is most intreguing to me. LetsGoPens.com regular and newbie here at FF, netwolf, alluded to the similarities between this potential line combination and the Ryan Malone, Evgeni Malkin, and Petr Sykora line of a few years back. The line had a mix of size, grit, and skill that made it ultra successful. A repeat of that line would be fantastic for the Penguins, who are seeking a more balanced offense than they had one year ago.

That being said, Sterling has handled himself quite well thus far, earning signficant praise from the coaching staff, including head coach Dan Bylsma, and has earned icetime with Malkin and Sidney Crosby. While it would be nice to replace Staal’s size, I am not quite sure the Penguins, an early Stanley Cup contender, can afford to keep a player solely based on size, likeness to Staal, or future potential. This is a team that needs to win now and must do everything possible to make that happen — even if it means keeping a small AHL veteran over a hulking power forward who is among the league’s top prospects. In other words, the player who offers the most in terms of production during Staal’s absense should and will make the team.

My question to you is, since Tangradi hasn’t blown anyone out of the water (your words, not mine), do you really think he has done enough to earn that roster spot?

Zach: Tangradi has done everything that could be expected for a player coming into his first full, healthy training camp with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Tangradi lost a whole offseason of training due to a hand laceration last summer. At prospect camp last season, he couldn’t even take a slap shot. Tangradi then battled different bad luck type injuries all season long with Wilkes-Barre and ended up being their most dominant player in the (short lived) playoff series again Albany.

So while he hasn’t dominated by any stretch of the imagination, he has performed quite well in doing what he is asked to do on that line with Malkin – get to the net and use his size to get body position on defenders.

Malkin’s goal against Columbus on Saturday was not a great shot by Malkin or a bad save attempt by Steve Mason – he simply could not find the puck due to 6’ 4” of man in front of him.

That is one thing Sterling cannot do.

Now I am a big Sterling fan. I love the underdog, the small player having success, ordinary becoming extraordinary etc., but I don’t know if that Malkin line would be the best place for him. If he makes the team, I see him playing with Crosby as opposed to Malkin to balance out that line.

He could, finally, have success in the NHL after dominating the AHL simply because he is a goal scorer. His stick is always in a scoring position. He is always facing the net ready for any pass that may find his stick. No one in hockey is better at finding a waiting stick than Crosby.

I did notice that during a few power play opportunities Sterling was posted in the high slot ready for a one time opportunity and Crosby tried to get it to him but the Blue Jackets defenders were closing on him up there which opened up the net mouth for the rest of the forwards.

Where do you see Sterling fitting if he makes the team over Tangradi? And what do you see as realistic production from this final forward spot regardless of who gets it?

Matt: Before I answer your question, I have to counter the first point in your last response. If he is only 21, missed a full summer of training last year, and battled injuries all season long, wouldn’t it be more beneficial to him to start out in WBS, allowing him to (hopefully) dominate at that level before being put onto a line with one of the best players in the game? I’m not against him making the team, I’m just not buying into your argument of why he should make it.

As for Sterling, he’s got speed, he’s got grit (though his size nullifies it to an extent), and he’s got determination — to go along with a very nice shot. Like you, I wouldn’t put him with Malkin. I’d play him alongside Crosby and Chris Kunitz, bumping Pascal Dupuis to a line with Mike Comrie and Malkin. It just seems most natural that way.

Regardless of who makes the team, I think production — not necessarily in the form of goals and/or assists — is a must. As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin always says, the standard stays the same no matter who plays. Ideally, I’d like to see 20 goals and a minimum of 40 points from each winger, and that shouldn’t change for Tangradi or Sterling. But, more than that, I want to see them do what is asked. For Sterling, I want to see him use his speed to create separation and space. I also want to see him take advantage of the inevitable double teams on Crosby. If he can do that, his natural shooting skills will result in goals. As for Tangradi, I want to see him park himself in front of the net and battle. I want to see him use his big frame to hit opponents all over the ice. In essence, I want to see him develop a mean streak that is necessary of any power forward in the NHL. He needs to model his game after Malone’s game that resulted in his seven-year contract with the Lightning.

Hitting on one last point here, before we wrap it up, do you think it’s possible neither player makes the team? Tyler Kennedy has widely been considered the odd man out, but all indications are that he has had a strong camp. Is it possible he could force his way back into Bylsma’s good grace, leaving someone like Matt Cooke or Max Talbot to fill in on the second line?

Zach: I agree on your production estimates. It’s pretty interesting that they are completely different players in most, if not every way, but both ideally should put up very different 20-20 seasons. Tangradi – tough in the corners and strong in front of the net. Sterling – finishing all the opportunities Crosby sets up and using his speed and nose for the net to put a legitimate scoring threat on Crosby’s wing.

But now to answer the last question you posed. Yes it is possible for neither player to make the team.

In fact, that was what I was expecting coming into the season. I expected the lineup to consist of one rookie, Ben Lovejoy. I had Arron Asham and Matt Cooke filling in on the second line with the top line being Kunitz – Crosby – Dupuis. That then made Talbot the 3rd line center. I had Kennedy 3rd line because I still had faith in him and I am glad to see him making Shero’s and Bylsma’s decision that much more difficult. Like they and all coaches say, it’s a good problem to have.

Tangradi then had an excellent rookie camp and rookie tournament coming off a strong finish to the season and Sterling impressed in training camp. The first day of open training camp, Sterling was probably the best player in his practice group. They both earned the chance to compete for the job. I guess it will come down to the wire as to which player Bylsma likes more.

Historically, Bylsma and Shero prefer a physical guy like Tangradi so I give him the edge. But it really is a toss up.

Matt: Thanks, Zach, for a great first edition of the new “Lacing Up.” I look forward to talking with you next week, when we tackle the topic of the power play!