The Pittsburgh Penguins have had a lot of changes this summer, but most of them involve known quantities with players that fans have seen for years like Phil Kessel and Eric Fehr. 25-year old Russian player Sergei Plotnikov is very different, he's a total unknown to the American hockey scene.
Plotnikov is skating daily in Cranberry with the group of players, and making the transition to his new surroundings. From the Pens:
The biggest barrier is language. Plotnikov does not speak English, though he is trying to learn the native tongue.
"Most of the time I spend at the rink and around the area," Plotnikov said from his locker stall at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex via translator George Birman. "I’m trying to learn as quickly as possible. Right now I’m trying to find a place to live and adjust myself."
Also, it sounds like he's here for the right reasons, too:
"They’re a great team, great organization," he said. "I like the style Pittsburgh plays. I like the players on the team, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Sidney) Crosby. They have a lot of great players. And every year they’re trying to win a Stanley Cup. That attracted me to Pittsburgh."
Another Plotnkiov nugget came from DK Sports Josh Yohe ($).
Many have assumed that Plotnikov will start the season on Malkin’s left wing because, you know, they’re both from Russia.
From what I’ve been told, it’s more likely Plotnikov will start the season in a bottom-six role, likely on the third line. This isn’t a knock on Plotnikov. He’s a big man and has impressed many of his new teammates in recent workouts. There is a sense that this guy is going to be a productive NHL player. But the Penguins don’t want to throw too much on his plate right in the early stages.
The last note is an important reminder that this isn't a player who's going to be a steady point-every-other-game player that seamlessly integrates into an NHL team as a productive top-6 player. Based on comments made by Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston that line of thinking also could be applied to Pascal Dupuis , as he proves to the world that his blood clot condition is under control.
Bringing Plotkinov along a little slowly is good news for David Perron and especially Chris Kunitz , two left-wingers who should be playing scoring line minutes with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Now that it's known that Crosby will start the year off centering Kessel and Patric Hornqvist will be to Malkin's right, the end-of-summer lines are coming together. The Pens opening depth chart probably is looking something like this:
Kunitz OR Perron - Crosby - Kessel
Perron OR Kunitz - Malkin - Hornqvist
Plotnikov - Nick Bonino - Dupuis
??????? - Matt Cullen - Beau Bennett
(Fehr coming off elbow surgery and not expected to be ready for camp)
We'll leave the spot on the 4th line wide open for now, it's probably the only position up for grabs, between the likes of Scott Wilson, Bryan Rust, Oskar Sundqvist, Conor Sheary, and (sigh) grit-and-toughness bad players like Tom Sestito (PTO) and Bobby Farnham.
Other than that, the Penguins need to sort out their left wings up top, and see if Bennett can displace Dupuis, which assuming Duper's health, probably isn't going to happen.
That's a formidable and deep lineup even before the return to Fehr, who could play on any of the top 3 lines as a right wing or be an above average 3rd line center.