The lineup for tonight's penultimate Penguins preseason game paints an interesting picture.
(Get ready for a lot of painting puns and references in the next 20 years)
With only 31 players remaining in NHL training camp, it's getting close to time for the start of the season. The Pens have released who will play tonight. The lines expected, based off practice yesterday would look like:
Chris Kunitz -Carter Rowney - Conor Sheary
Scott Wilson - Evgeni Malkin -Patric Hornqvist
Jake Guentzel - Nick Bonino - Phil Kessel
Tom Kuhnhackl - Matt Cullen - Eric Fehr
This is basically your opening night lineup (depending on if Bryan Rust is healthy), except the Penguins are having 2 place-holders in the spots typically occupied by Sidney Crosby and Carl Hagelin. Both Sid and Hot Carl returned to practice yesterday from the World Cup of Hockey and don't need to be thrown into a meaningless preseason game.
But there still will be much to watch for; it's an interesting audition for Rowney and Guentzel (two impressive players with no NHL experience) who have had strong individual training camps. Positive showings tonight, and for the rest of the time they're with the NHL team, could plant the seed for a mid-season call up if or when injuries strike the NHL roster.
Defensively, the roster isn't as opening night looking.
Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang are both going to play, and both have settled in as regular partners late in this camp. Olli Maatta is also going to make his preseason debut.
The other 3 defensemen who are dressing will be worth watching for how they perform, and what roles they're given. They are Justin Schultz, Derrick Pouliot and David Warsofsky. At this point, it wouldn't really be a shock if any of the latter three are vying for the 6th and 7th spot on the team, with not room for all three on opening night. Schultz's spot on the team is secure, but the same can't be definitively said for Pouliot (who doesn't require waivers to go to the AHL) and Warsofsky (who might be 8th best player with only 7 spots).
The two defensemen not in the lineup tonight but expected to be on the team are Trevor Daley and Ian Cole . Daley has been skating with Maatta in camp recently, so it will be interesting to see who the coaches are looking at as a potential 2nd pair fill-in. The most obvious choice seems to be Schultz since he's a right-handed player and the right-side is probably the spot that needs to be filled.