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How will the Penguins manage their 8 defenseman

An interesting storyline to watch down the stretch will be the usage of defenseman by the Pittsburgh Penguins, with 8 guys battling for 6 lineup spots

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

At the trade deadline, the Pittsburgh Penguins only made one addition and that was to bring in Edmonton defenseman Justin Schultz for a 3rd round pick. Schultz had a rocky career with the Oilers, after being hyped as a top-young player when he signed there as a free agent.

One of the most curious things about the acquisition of Schultz is the fact the Penguins already had a young, puck-moving, untested offensive defenseman in Derrick Pouliot. Pouliot's younger too, and has played well in the NHL over his time in Pittsburgh in the last 18 games.

Another wrinkle was Ben Lovejoy getting hurt on February 20th against Tampa. This opened the door for Ian Cole - previously buried as a healthy scratch to rejoin the lineup from Feb 21 until the present. Cole totally bombed early in the season, in a top-line role under Mike Johnston, but has experience quite the reset in the last 9 games he's played. Cole's played simple, added 3 assists and is a +5 in the last 9. Which, regardless how you feel about +/-, is useful to say that the puck has been going in the right net while Cole's been back.

When Lovejoy returns to health (and he's skating with the team now) the Penguins will have 8 healthy defensemen who have a case to be in the lineup. This is quite the departure from last season, when the team only had 5 defensemen and limped down the stretch, unable to make a call-up after being hamstrung by the salary cap. They won't have that issue this season.

Here's how the team lined up this morning

Pouliot and Lovejoy have played together in the past, and fared well. Cole and Schultz have only played together for 2 games, but they haven't looked out of place either.

This could be a good thing, starting tomorrow night the Pens have 6 games in the next 10 days. They could use fresh bodies on the 3rd pair.

I'm interested to see what the group thinks about what the Pens should do. Rotate evenly? Do you trust Cole to continue to play well, or has his early season struggles poisoned him still? Could a Pouliot-Schultz pairing be trusted when they don't have the puck not to buckle completely and get pinned in their own end? Where does Lovejoy fit once he's healthy?

Plenty of questions, no clear answers. We'll try to poll it, but there's a lot of scenarios. No matter how it slices out though, it's a much better place to be than 12 months ago.