It hasn’t been the most healthy start to the 2019-20 season by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The team was already facing a long-term injury to Bryan Rust, as the speedy, versatile winger had his hand broken by a puck a couple of weeks ago. His absence hurt for sure—it was definitely noticeable during the season opener—but given the outrageous amount of forward depth the Penguins have, it was easily managed.
Now, with reports of additional long-term injuries to Evgeni Malkin and third-line center Nick Bjugstad (both sustained during the 7-2 rout of Columbus), Pittsburgh’s backs are against the wall and their NHL roster is looking a little anemic.
The obvious next question will be what the Penguins’ subsequent move is to fill the gaping holes at the 2C and 3C, so we’re going to throw a few names from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton AHL affiliate and see what sticks come the team’s upcoming announcement.
Firstly, Pittsburgh will have to decide if it wants to call up centers from WBS or simply move two of Jared McCann, Dominik Simon, Dominik Kahun, or possibly even Alex Galchenyuk from their usual spots on the wings. It’s likely that the second option will be the safest, most calculated decision given the importance of the center position. Though the outcome was a little iffy whenever they tried those guys at center during preseason, expecting AHL-level talent to hunker down and quarterback a top-six role with ease isn’t the most idealistic assumption to make. For what it’s worth though, McCann is a natural center and could slip into that role quite comfortably.
Because that is the likely scenario, my guess is that one or two of either Adam Johnson, (who by the way had a sweet assist on Stefan Noesen’s first goal on Saturday), Joseph Blandisi, or Sam Lafferty gets the call from Jim Rutherford and begins the trek from eastern Pennsylvania as soon as possible, as a date with the Jets at home is set for tomorrow evening.
Johnson and Blandisi already have a decent chunk of NHL experience under their belts (and Blandisi was one of the opening night centers for WBS in their debut vs. Hershey), but Lafferty has been a bright spot for the Baby Pens’ offense in recent seasons and is a threat to do some damage in the big leagues in his own right. There’s also still a chance the Penguins go the other direction and call-up one center from the minors, like Oula Palve for example, and then roll on with their decision-making process from there.
Pittsburgh could even call a total audible and try to go out and make a quick trade or signing if a deal for a center is miraculously floating out there. Rutherford is probably working the phones on that as we speak.
There is a lot to think about between now and 7 p.m. tomorrow night. I’m sure the team has already started making its moves and we’ll get a team announcement before the end of the day.