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Penguins cut 21 players, roster begins to take shape

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The Pittsburgh Penguins cut almost half the players with the team and are down to 26 players. Must get down to 23 by next week

NHL: Preseason-Pittsburgh Penguins at Detroit Red Wings Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Starting last Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins had to play five preseason games in seven nights. Accordingly, they kept a large roster in their NHL camp so that they could evenly distribute the games among their players. Now, with just two games left in the last five days of the preseason was a good time to make cuts.

And boy did they ever, trimming 21 players off the NHL camp. From the team:

Forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Thomas Di Pauli, Adam Johnson, Sam Miletic, Dominik Simon, Colin Smith, Daniel Sprong, Christian Thomas, Freddie Tiffels and Garrett Wilson; defensemen Lukas Bengtsson, Frank Corrado, Kevin Czuczman, Ethan Prow, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman; and goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have all been returned to WBS.

Dea, Wilson, Summers, Czuczman, Tinoradi, Corrado and Trotman all have to clear waivers on Wednesday at noon before they can join WBS.

Are there any surprises? Well, Blueger was in the mix for a center job and played the first four preseason games, getting a mighty long look and opportunity, but obviously he didn’t do enough in management’s eyes to stick around. Now it looks like Jay McClement, Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney are battling for 2 center lineup spots to start the regular season (or, one, if a trade is made)...

Aston-Reese got significant training camp time in practice on the regular second line with Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin. That ZAR might get cut isn’t totally shocking, as a rookie even Jake Guentzel took some AHL time before being totally NHL ready, but it is somewhat surprising on the timing to send him down now and not keep him for an even longer look.

Same applies to Sprong, though with significant depth at right wing (Sheary, Kessel, Hornqvist, Rust, Reaves all NHL options) it seemed just a matter of time before the talented 20-year old was tasked with developing at the AHL level.

Defensively, Bengtsson had a good camp and got a nice amount of work and action in featured spot, but with 8 defensemen on NHL one-way contracts and also requiring waivers, the numbers were clearly stacked against him too.

Pittsburgh is left with 26 players in camp, all are healthy, save Hornqvist and Sestito who is said to be on track for health by the start of the season. They are allowed to have no more than 23 for the start of the regular season. Here they are:

Goalies (2): Matt Murray, Antti Niemi

Defensemen (8): Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, Ian Cole, Olli Maatta, Matt Hunwick, Derrick Pouliot, Chad Ruhwedel

Forwards (16): Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Conor Sheary, Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin, Bryan Rust, Scott Wilson, Tom Kuhnhackl, Ryan Reaves, Rowney, McKegg, McClement, Josh Archibald, Tom Sestito

**

Goalie is set, and defense may be too- though carrying 8 healthy for practice purposes is unconventional as we’ve said here before. This could also be some trade considerations as well to wait and see on, so who knows.

The only drama is up front, Sestito was hurt in a practice and may just be sticking around until after a weekend game against Columbus. Cut him and 1 (or probably 2) of: McClement, Archibald, McKegg and Kuhnhackl and the team will be cap compliant and limit compliant at this point.

In all this training camp has probably unfolded about as anticipated. Aston-Reese got some hopes up to make a great run, but hope probably overlooks that he’s not going to be an NHL Top-6 player from Day 1, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Right now, in our totally unofficial form, here’s what the opening night roster appears to be looking like at this moment, with the obvious caveat that items could and will change:

Guentzel-Crosby-Sheary

Rust-Malkin-Kessel

Hagelin-McKegg-Hornqvist

Wilson-Rowney-Reaves

Dumoulin/Letang

Maatta/Hunwick

Cole/Schultz

Scratches: Kuhnhackl, Ruhwedel, Pouliot