Training camp opens today for the Pittsburgh Penguins with physical training and the first batch of interviews as players make their way back to the Consol Energy Center officially in preparations for the 2013-14 NHL season.
As we set to begin another season, let's check on how the expected lines are looking for the forwards:
CHRIS KUNITZ – SIDNEY CROSBY – PASCAL DUPUIS
OPEN 2LW - EVGENI MALKIN – JAMES NEAL
OPEN 3LW - BRANDON SUTTER - - OPEN 3RW
OPEN 4LW – Joe Vitale - CRAIG ADAMS
Five of the top six are in stone, with coach Dan Bylsma saying that Beau Bennett and Jussi Jokinen will both get chances on the Malkin line, which there’s reason to believe the loser of that competition would most likely dropping to the third wing.
On the bottom six you can set Sutter and Adams in stone for places on the third and fourth lines, respectively, and then from then who knows. Tanner Glass and Dustin Jeffrey are going to make the opening night roster, but they could be anywhere from 3rd line to 4th line to healthy scratches. Matt D’Agostini has a contract and probably the inside track, but he’ll still have to compete and earn a place. We’ve also penciled Joe Vitale into the 4C spot, but his hold on that position isn’t completely locked in, he’s got a lot to prove.
Other forwards in consideration, who are likely going to have to outperform the names listed above in order to earn a spot in the NHL when training camp breaks:
- Harry Zolnierczyk – acquired in a trade this summer, Zolnierczyk has some NHL experience and should know his best chance is to be an energy/gritty type player that the Pens don’t have much of for bottom six forwards. Given his skillset that’s tailor-made for a 4th line and some feistiness he plays a good style of play to potentially “flash” in camp.
- Chris Conner – the diminutive forward is back in the system. He knows the coaches and the team and has shown in the past that he’s capable of filling in at the NHL level, albeit he’s been better in flashes and isn’t consistent enough to be a full-time NHL’er.
- Chuck Kobasew – signed a PTO, should be hungry to make his mark. It’ll be an uphill battle.
- Nick Drazenovic – played eight games in the NHL last year and has been a point producer in the AHL.
- Andrew Ebbett – has 191 games of NHL experience at the age of 30, but the team is deep on centers.
- Jayson Megna and Adam Payerl – a pair of homegrown farmhands also play a bottom six style, but have almost no experience competing against NHL level players. Camp will be a good measuring stick to see if they can measure up against the best hockey players in the world.
The Penguins aren’t deep on forwards and probably figure to have as much competition and volatility among their forwards in many years. In the past the team has had stalwarts like Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy completely taking care of the 3rd line and solid veterans like Mike Rupp, Arron Asham and Max Talbot to take the majority of the 4th line jobs. This year, it’s a lot more wide-open. The Pens don’t have a lot of proven depth, but they do have a lot of candidates that could be capable of proving they belong in the league. Now the fun part will be watching and seeing which players are able to elevate their games and do something that’s been rare lately in Pittsburgh- win a job as a forward in training camp.