Mark Eaton spent a quiet four years in Pittsburgh patrolling the blueline for the Penguins and helping them win their third Stanley Cup in 2009.

His solid, yet understated approach helped him outplay his role with the Penguins two years ago, leading to a stint with the New York Islanders that came to an end last summer.

Now, just under a week into the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Eaton, 35, remains a free agent looking for an NHL home.

Enter the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins of the AHL.

Familiar with the Penguins organization and looking for a way to get back into game shape should an NHL team call, Eaton yesterday signed a professional tryout contract (PTO) with the Penguins’ AHL squad.

The deal carries with it no connections with the NHL Penguins, and since the contract is purely on a tryout basis, he remains a free agent for any of the 30 NHL teams to sign.

Additionally, since his contract carries no NHL affiliation, he would not be required to clear waivers should the Pittsburgh Penguins be the team that comes calling.

Coincidentally (or not), Rob Rossi of the Tribune-Review reported today that Penguins general manager Ray Shero has made it known that he is willing to trade defenseman Ben Lovejoy.

The two news bits may or may not go in hand, but from my standpoint, the addition of a veteran, such as Eaton, would be great for the Penguins, even if he spends the majority of the games as a healthy scratch.

Looking at the ice time among defenseman in last night’s loss to the Maple Leafs, Deryk Engelland logged just under eight minutes, while Simon Despres logged just under nine minutes, leaving three defensemen to play more than 20 minutes, including Letang’s 27:31.

It’s obvious, as was the case during last year’s playoffs, that the coaching staff lacks confidence in Engelland and the same appears to be the case — at least for now — with rookie Despres.

Among the extras, Lovejoy has found little opportunity throughout the last year to earn icetime over Engelland, while Bortuzzo is a rookie who has had limited NHL in-game experience to date.

This may not be an issue in the short-term, as some form of rotation between the bottom four could prove capable. But as the season progresses and the playoffs approach, can the Penguins afford to roll out defensemen they clearly don’t have much faith in?

The answer is no.

At this stage in his career, Eaton may not be any better than the options that currently exist within the team. Then again, he’s a reliable veteran whose lack of flash is made up for by a lack of mistakes. That’s certainly no worse than what Lovejoy brings to the table.

At the very least he’d be a veteran to use in practice to help bring along the two rookies and dress in a few games to spell the regulars.

If I haven’t convinced you to this point, consider this: when the playoffs roll around, who would you rather see as the seventh defenseman? Your choices are the experienced Eaton, the mistake-prone Lovejoy, or the inexperienced Bortuzzo.

The answer is clear to me.

And let’s be clear, adding Eaton to the mix should not be perceived as a cure all for a defense that clearly is missing reliable, capable players.

Without a doubt, even if Eaton is signed, the Penguins should and likely would pursue a defenseman to skate a regular shift as an upgrade over one of Engelland or Despres.

Eaton would just serve to create depth, and that’s something every Stanley Cup contender needs to have.