Since being traded and all the drama between stepping onto their flight from south Florida, running through the hallways of PPG Paints Arena to the locker room, dressing in less than two minutes, chugging a Red Bull, and taking the ice with a brand new team in a whirlwind day, newcomers Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann finally, after already playing two games with the Penguins, had their first practice with the team.
“It was a crazy experience. It was good (to finally get one in),” Bjugstad said. “Especially coming off that 10-day break and jumping right into that game (vs. Ottawa). Maybe it was easier doing it that way — not much thinking. I didn’t have that much time to really go over the systems or anything, just go out and play. It’s fun to get traded here. I’m very excited.”
McCann, who came off immediately as having an incredibly high hockey I.Q., mimicked the thoughts of his Florida teammate, and mentioned that Mike Sullivan didn’t want to overload the two of them with too much information too quickly.
“We’re just getting more and more comfortable as we progress here — getting to know the linemates a little more and get to know their tenancies. For me personally, I feel like I need to understand the defensive zone a bit more. Florida was a lot different than what they play here. The biggest difference (from Florida) is that Pittsburgh plays the layer system, and moving forward, I have to stay against motion, man-on-man. I have to focus on finding a man down low and staying within and boxing him out.”
When asked about how the practice itself went, Bjugstad was very complimentary of the way it was ran and feels that directly affects the Penguins’ in-game results compared to what he’s used to.
“It was a fast-paced practice. Obviously that translates on the ice for this team. I went through a video session, and I’m starting to learn a little bit more. I’m getting my feet wet right away, and try to do my best to bring my skill set and help here.”
“I’m very excited to come to a team like this,” Bjugstad continued. “There’s this attitude of winning, and I could tell that from the pre-game speech. You can just tell there’s a mentality of winning here. (Pittsburgh) is definitely a good team to come to.”
Because second-line staple Evgeni Malkin is still nursing a hand injury presumably from his scuffle with Steven Stamkos last Wednesday vs. the Lightning, Bjugstad was asked about where he pictures himself in the lineup, and if he prefers being slotted inside at center, a position he has played for most of his life like he has been so far by Mike Sullivan, or if he wants to be placed back outside at the wing like he was for the Panthers.
“Wherever they put me, I’ll be happy. This is a pretty deep lineup with lots of good players to play with. Even the first game wasn’t too difficult just jumping in. There’s lots of support on the ice.”
As expressed by Jim Rutherford and the coaching staff after the transaction with Florida, Bjugstad will likely serve as the team’s third-line center once Malkin returns, but that’s when things get very interesting for the rest of the bottom-six. Zach Aston-Reese is going to return soon as well. It remains to be seen if McCann or Matt Cullen takes fourth line quarterbacking duties, and subsequently, what that will mean for scorching-hot Teddy Blueger.
McCann and Cullen will likely rotate the C/LW positions. As for Blueger, the second he goes cold, he’ll be on the red line to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton straight away. It’s shaping up to be a battle for the last spot between he and ZAR for who stays and who gets sent back down to the farm team.
The Penguins, once again, have a wealth of depth at the forward position, and come playoff time, trying to fit all these pieces together will be a great problem to have — especially when the inevitable injuries start coming.