After a strong training camp, 21 year old defenseman Scott Harrington is probably seen by management as #8 on the organizational depth chart right now. Currently, one guy ahead of him is (Robert Bortuzzo) hurt, traditionally meaning an NHL roster spot for that position. However, of course, only six defensemen dress in a traditional game, which has led to interesting handling of the young player that's now an NHL player...But hasn't actually played an NHL game.
The Pens current third pair of Simon Despres and Rob Scuderi have been adequate through two games, two games the team has won. So the result has been that Harrington's been scratched last game, and based on line rushes this morning, probably will be scratched again today when the Pens meet the Dallas Stars, which is probably to be expected. Teams don't often change up too much of a winning lineup without reason to do so.
So what gives? Why aren't the Penguins playing a good, young player who could benefit from game time?
That's one school of thought- just let Harrington play in the AHL until there's an injury that will guarantee him NHL ice-time. A veteran, like Taylor Chorney, could have been used as the spare NHL defenseman that didn't see game time. There's merit to that, but it's not the path the Penguins are taking right now with Harrington.
Which leads to the obvious question- why not?
For one thing, Harrington's only one injury from making his NHL debut. If you've seen the Penguins defense lately or know anything about the past history of Kris Letang and Paul Martin, an injury at any time to one of the six isn't out of the question. Should that happen, Harrington has the benefit of having practiced with the NHL team, been coached by NHL coaches in the intricacies of the Mike Johnston system by the man himself.
Harrington would also be more familiar with the pace and speed of the game, and his teammates by virtue of staying in the NHL. As almost every call-up will mention, the biggest adjustment from AHL games to NHL games is the lack of time caused by bigger, faster players. Even though practices are far from the pace of games, Harrington at least will be tuned to seeing the skill and knowing what the coaches expect of him in situations better by staying in Pittsburgh now.
The opportunity cost for this usage decision is missing out playing in games. So far, that really should not be a major concern, Harrington has only missed 2 AHL games, to this point. In the big picture, getting Harrington NHL practice time probably evens out with missing a few minor league games. Harrington isn't the type of player that has a lot to prove, or really a lot to gain by playing in the AHL at this point of his career. For his progression into an NHL caliber defensive defenseman, actually being in the NHL and getting up to speed as a pro- doing everything BUT playing in games- is a good use of the resource.
Bortuzzo has started skating on his own, and based on the timeline of his injury is likely about 10-14 days away from being cleared to re-join the lineup. Should that happen and no other injuries occur, it would make sense to send Harrington back- the NHL team wouldn't have need for him at that point as insurance, and for salary cap purposes they should only be carrying 7 healthy defensemen anyways.
For now, even though he's not playing games, giving Scott Harrington a taste of the NHL for a couple of days isn't a terrible thing for him, and would be beneficial for the team if he's needed to be pressed into action. The team could have kept Chorney up, but should another injury happen, it's probably better that they have Harrington instead to plug in. If not, Harrington's time to play in the NHL will come sooner than later.