The Pittsburgh Penguins today announced that forward Dustin Jeffrey has been assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL, leaving 14 healthy forwards on the NHL roster.

Jeffrey, 22, has spent the last two seasons with the “Baby” Penguins, where he saw his point totals jump from 37 to 71, leaving some to believe he was a favorite to earn an NHL roster spot this season.

However, with one of the most competitive camps in recent history, it was inevitable that several worthy players would get cut.

While it’s unfortunate for Jeffrey, the timing of his re-assignment suggests the value the team places on him — and it would appear he’s just one or two injuries away from an NHL promotion.

Still with the NHL squad are forwards Eric Tangradi and Mark Letestu, defensemen Andrew Hutchinson, Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland, and Simon Despres, and injured players Casey Pierro-Zabotel and Ryan Craig.

On offense, Letestu appears all but guaranteed to earn a roster spot, with coach Dan Bylsma firmly in his corner, according to a September 27 Post-Gazette article.

“To say to Mark, ‘Hey you haven’t done everything you’ve needed to do [to put yourself in contention for an NHL job],’ I couldn’t look him in the eye and say that,” coach Dan Bylsma said Sunday. “I’d have to look at the floor.”

With center Jordan Staal out for the first 10 games, and maybe more, Tangradi would seem to have a roster spot locked up. That gritty forward Arron Asham’s upper body injury could be worse than originally noted only serves to improve Tangradi’s chances.

On defense, no clear-cut favorite has emerged to fill the vacant sixth and seventh defenseman roles.

Andrew Hutchinson appears to be a long-shot, only because his forte is offense and the Penguins over the summer focused on improving the defensive side of the game.

That leaves Lovejoy, the pre-camp favorite, Engelland, and Despres.

If the Penguins are looking for a rugged, stay-at-home presence, Engelland is the man. His downside, however, tends to be similar to that of former Penguins defenseman Jay McKee in that neither was very mobile or capable with the puck.

Conversely, if the Penguins seek a steady, reliable, and unflashy defender, Lovejoy is the man. He won’t wow in any one area, but he is a smooth skater, makes a good first pass, and is capable in his own end. Working against him at this point is that he hasn’t exactly had the best camp.

Lastly, the Penguins have an opportunity to experiment with a dynamic rookie with a very high ceiling. Despres entered camp as a player seeking to get experience before returning to his Junior team. But, as camp progressed, Despres quickly showed skills beyond his years, inevitably forcing the Penguins to keep him beyond the final preseason game.

Despres brings smooth skating, an effective outlet pass, and sound defense to the table. What he won’t bring much of, though, is physicality. Despite his large frame, Despres chooses to focus on his positioning and skating to remain effective.

The decisions for the Penguins’ coaching staff are unenviable, as all of those remaining are more than capable of filling the remaining roster spots. But with anywhere from one to three available roster spots, additional cuts must be made before Wednesday’s final roster deadline.

My Take

Tangradi has proven capable of playing with Evgeni Malkin and Mike Comrie, mimicking a very successful line from Malkin’s past, which featured Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora.

I think Tangradi has earned a roster spot at least until Staal returns. What happens beyond Staal’s return depends on how Tangradi handles himself in the regular season, when he faces full NHL rosters, as opposed to a mixed group of NHLers and minor leaguers.

Despres, to me, has shown enough to earn a nine-game extended look. In my opinion, he has been the best non-NHL player in camp and is deserving of an opportunity to stick.

His future beyond the nine-game look depends on how he handles himself — but if nothing else, it will give him a vote of confidence and an opportunity to learn what he must prepare fore.

I have Lovejoy as the next defenseman in line for a job, essentially placing him as the team’s seventh defender. Whether the Penguins choose to keep seven on the roster is another story.

Engelland and Hutchinson, to me, represent one-dimensional players who just don’t fit the bill in Pittsburgh, where versatility is crucial. As mentioned above, Engelland is a physical presence, but not really that useful in any other way, while Hutchinson is a capable offensive producer, but not really capable defensively.

Because the Penguins have enough capable offensive producers on the blueline, I put Engelland as the third defenseman in the pecking order, with Hutchinson being the fourth among four.