The Pittsburgh Penguins announced this evening that they have sent 3 additional players down to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The WBS Baby Pens began their AHL Training Camp this afternoon, so we can expect these 3 to join their lineup within the next day or two.
The one that I'm sure will be the most surprising is Jayson Megna being cut from the lineup. He has generated a lot of hype, so many people had penciled him into their opening night rosters, particularly in the wake of Bennett's injury. Personally I haven't been impressed with his pre-season performance thus far, so I wasn't expecting him to make the team this year, but it is strange to see him get sent down this early.
Then there is Reid McNeill who really isn't a shock. He wasn't bad in Camp, and showed that he may actually be a viable call-up option, but we are so incredibly deep at the blue line and he didn't really stand out enough to force them to even give him a second game. I do expect him to do big things as a shutdown D in WBS this year though.
It is Dominik Uher that disappoints me the most. Not that I thought he played well enough to have earned himself a place in the lineup, but rather that I had high hopes for him, and yet he didn't even get a second game. With Uher sent down the Penguins end their 24 year streak of having a Czech player in the lineup. It looks like this really is the season of change.
So with 3 more names stricken from the lineup, our list of bubble players still vying for a place in the lineup is shrinking. There are 34 players still on the Training Camp roster, which means at least 11 cuts yet to come. Although the Salary Cap may force us to go with 22 players rather than 23.
We still have 11 forwards playing on 1way NHL contracts that can be considered locks at this point in time. Normally we would have included Bennett, but with his injury he is likely going to begin the season on LTIR. So chances are we are looking at 2 additional forwards making the opening night roster.
Strangely enough out of all the bubble forwards it is Zach Sill who has been the most consistently impressive in the pre-season games. He certainly lacks offensive talent, although he did have a nice goal in his first game that got waved off because PL3 was thrown into the goaltender, and even set up some decent chances tonight. But he is never going to be known for his offensive production, what he brings to the table is speed, above average faceoff skill, defensive talent and PK skill, and above all grit and determination. At face value he may seem like an odd choice, but the Pens mantra this off-season was to focus on 4 traits: character, grit, speed, and youth. He is the living embodiment of exactly what Lemieux and Burkle claimed the team needed. And so far the coaching staff has said they are quite impressed with what he brings to the team. And the fact that he needs to clear waivers in order to be sent to WBS may sway the decision makers.
Oskar Sundqvist is another guy that I am really hoping for, although I don't actually expect him to be ready this year. However, he has played rather well in pre-season and unlike most of the other prospects he not only already has the size and strength to compete with NHL regulars, but also has experience playing in the 3rd best league in the world over in Sweden. Developmentally he may be better suited to returning to Skelleftea and playing a bigger role as a Top 6 forward, but he is certainly making a push for an NHL roster spot already.
One that surprises me is Kasperi Kapanen who is just 18 years old. I did not expect him to be anywhere near NHL ready this season, despite the hype that surrounded him this summer. However, the injury to Bennett may have opened the door and even Johnston has now said he may very well get a look early in the season. He certainly showed in this past game that he does have underlying talent. There is no harm in giving him the 9 games to see if he may be able to keep up, particularly with Bennett expected to miss the first 12 or so. I think he still has a lot left to learn and a good bit of growing to do as well, but it wouldn't be the first time a young player was thrust into the league before they were really ready and had to learn as they go.
Andrew Ebbett is another interesting option who has looked rather solid in his pre-season performances. I still expect him to be a long shot, and he may have been retained simply because he needs to clear waivers and it is best to wait until the end when other teams are sending down their veterans as well. However, he is a veteran with some solid NHL experience in the past, and making league minimum he wouldn't be the worst option for the 4th line.
One of the most unexpected is Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond now having survived 2 rounds of roster cuts. He showed enough spark in his first game that the team did want to give him a second look, but after his performance tonight I had anticipated he would be in the second wave of cuts. He wasn't really bad, he just wasn't very good. However, he does need to clear waivers, so they may be waiting until the end. I don't expect anybody to place a claim for a veteran enforcer, but then I didn't expect Big Mac to get picked off waivers either, so it doesn't hurt to play the waiting game a little longer.
Bobby Farnham then is the most unexpected, it is hard to believe he managed to stick around through 2 rounds of cuts while so many other more talented options were already sent down. He played well enough in his first game that he earned himself a second look, but after his performance this afternoon I fully expected him to be one of the next guys cut. He doesn't even have to clear waivers, so his presence remains rather baffling.
Last is Daniel Carcillo who has yet to play in a game and so far has hardly even been able to practice. He has been dealing with a foot injury carried over from last season, although they are hoping he will be healthy enough to play on Monday. He may surprise us, but I'm really not expecting anything from him.
There are 6 D on 1way NHL deals that we can pencil into the NHL lineup. I am hesitant to include Despres, because his performance has been less than impressive, but his contract does suggest he will stick, although perhaps as the #7 D. We also expect Maatta to be included amongst the players penciled into the lineup, but he remains injured and we are still not entirely certain when he will return, they said they are hoping he will be cleared for at least 1 of the final pre-season games. The final question mark is Bortuzzo who got hurt in his last game, he is "Day-to-Day" and we don't know exactly when he will be back. So quite possibly we won't have any openings for bubble players on D, and at best we are looking at 1-2.
Brian Dumoulin has not only been the most impressive of the bubble players, but also one of the best overall players so far this pre-season. He certainly hasn't been perfect, but he has shown that he is more than ready for the jump to playing in the NHL. However, his contract status may work against him as he doesn't have to be placed on waivers in order to return to WBS. He is hoping to do well enough to force the team to make a move in order to accommodate him, but from an asset management standpoint the numbers may be working against him.
Another player to keep an eye on is Philip Samuelsson who has been quietly effective this pre-season. He was actually rather exceptional this past game, putting up a solid performance and making sure the decision on what to do with him will not be an easy one. The biggest concern is that he must now be placed on waivers, and for such a young D with family pedigree and a track record of past performance he may be a tempting target for others to claim. He may not ever be better than a 3rd pair D, but at league minimum he is a pretty decent option to be a 6/7 D, particularly if Bortuzzo remains injured.
Scott Harrington has had his moments, and he has the potential to be the next Martin one day, but I don't think he has really played well enough to force his way into the lineup this year. He should wind up being a big part of the WBS blue line this year, and should be near the top of the list should we require a mid-season call-up, but I imagine it is just a matter of time before he gets sent back down.
I have been pleasantly surprised by Taylor Chorney because I expected him to be a career AHLer with no chance of making an NHL impact. However, he has been quite impressive in his pre-season appearances and has caused the team to keep him around for another look. Of course he needs to be placed on waivers, so they may well be holding on to him until the end of Camp just for that reason.
Derrick Pouliot is also technically still a bubble player because he has not been sent down yet. He hasn't even been cleared to return to practice yet, although he has been skating with Kadar every day and is still able to keep in shape. Chances are he will be sent to WBS to start the year and could find himself at the top of the list for a mid-season call-up, but it is interesting that he has remained through 2 round of cuts. The other injured players that weren't going to make the NHL lineup have already been sent to WBS, but he remains up in the NHL.
The only thing we know for certain so far is that Fleury will be the starter. The battle for backup remains heated as both Jeff Zatkoff and Thomas Greiss had impressive performances in their pre-season games. This is complicated by the fact that both would need to be placed on waivers in order to send them to WBS, and there is a very real concern in the organization that they may get claimed. We have been told that the two of them will split the next game on Monday, so it will be their last chance to show what they can do in an actual game situation before the final decision is made.