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A Pipeline to Nowhere

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Rob Scuderi's return to Penguins exposed more than just his declining ability.

Jamie Sabau

Last summer, when former General Manager Ray Shero announced the signing of defensemen Rob Scuderi to a four year deal, my initial reaction to it was 'they signed another defensemen?' It was pretty much the universal reaction by many hockey observers as just about everyone lauded the organization for their depth on the blue line but panned their depth at forward.

Shero successfully steered the conversation about making things right for the franchise and Scuderi after 'The Piece' left as a free agent for Los Angeles after winning the Stanley Cup in 2009.

A year later, Scuderi looks nothing like the defensemen that left for Los Angeles in 2009 and likely to surprise you the most, the lauded blue line depth is about to get exposed.

I can already hear the laughing quips such as 'The pipeline going dry on defense, are you mad?'

No really, look at the depth chart beyond the NHL top seven of Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi, Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, Olli Maatta, Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres.

Now consider after the 2014-2015 season, two of the top four defensemen will be heading to unrestricted free agency. It is pretty clear Martin has no interest returning after the season and as much as Ehrhoff is expected to thrive in this system, he could price himself out of Pittsburgh by doing so.

It was a tremendous development, though unexpected, to see Maatta earn a job in the NHL last year but before he was making headlines, it was Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin exciting fans for the future.

Both players still have potential to work their way to the NHL but I don't see either as top four dfensemen. That leaves Derrick Pouliot as the only top four defensemen in the system.

Beyond those three, you're looking at minor league suspects such as Phil Samuelsson, Harrison Ruopp, Nick D'Agostino, Reid McNeill, Clark Seymour, and Alex Boak. Then there's unassuming prospects Jeff Taylor, Ryan Segalla, and Dane Birks.

That's it.

During a time when the franchise has struggled to draft and develop a top six forward to support Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they are now about to come to the realization the same is going to happen on defense.

Keep this in mind when you wonder why new General Manager Jim Rutherford decides to keep Martin and Ehrhoff for the whole year without trading them for future assets and just maybe why he decides to sign one of them to a long term deal.