After their first pre-season game, the Pittsburgh Penguins have made their first cut of training camp, trimming 13 players off the roster. From the team:
Eleven players were assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. Two were returned to their junior teams.
Joining Wilkes-Barre/Scranton are forwards Brandon DeFazio, Brian Gibbons, Ben Street, Paul Thompson and Geoff Walker; defensemen Simon Despres, Alex Grant, Joey Mormina, Philip Samuelsson and Carl Sneep; and goaltender Patrick Killeen.
Forwards Tom Kuhnhackl (Windsor, Ontario Hockey League) and Dominik Uher (Spokane, Western Hockey League) were returned to their respective junior teams.
The Penguins have 42 players remaining on their training camp roster (27 forwards; 13 defensemen; 4 goaltenders).
The biggest surprise in the list is definitely Despres. As a 2009 first round pick, Despres' stock has soared as he was the QMJHL's defenseman of the year last season, a member of Team Canada's World Junior team and St. John Sea Dogs' Memorial Cup winning team. On top of that, Despres was among the final NHL cuts last season and got to play in some preseason games. This season, he will not get that chance.
Is it a step back? Not necessarily- a lot of fan reports said Despres didn't look like an NHL defenseman in early camp, and that's natural. He's a 20 year old playing arguably the toughest position in defense to make a transition from junior to pros.
And that aside, the Pens defensive depth is absolutely stacked. The top four players are set and Matt Niskanen, Deryk Engelland, Ben Lovejoy and Alex Picard are battling out to join the lineup and roster. That doesn't include Boris Valabik and Robert Bortuzzo, currently injured and also Brian Strait. All of the above have an incredible amount more of experience than the young and green Despres.
So this isn't the worst thing in the world- Despres will get a full AHL camp in, learn the ropes there and work on his game.
Among other cuts, none stand out too much. Kuhnhackl could have turned pro and played in the AHL this year, since he was drafted as a European player. But WB/S figures to be very stacked and there's more of an opportunity for him to get a ton of minutes and develop in the OHL.
It's interesting that several players who played last night were cut today. I would expect by Saturday the team will make another round of cuts of players who are set to be in the lineup tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks.