For preseason game five out of six, the Penguins are hitting the road. Most of their NHL core and key players are staying behind. Here’s the group that will be playing:
Interestingly, to pull this lineup, Pittsburgh actually recalled four players (forwards Jonathan Gruden and Valtteri Puustinen, as well as defensemen Niclas Almari and Taylor Fedun) from the AHL training camp. Not much to see here, just a short-term move in order to not bring players like Bryan Rust, Jeff Carter, Kris Letang or Brian Dumoulin on the road for a extra trip.
Lack of max lineup strength aside, the preseason games are still important and critical for the players on or around the bubble, and this could be the final game for many of them to make a closing statement. Players like Drew O’Connor and Radim Zohorna have been the talk of Pens’ camp late, and others like Anthony Angello, Sam Lafferty and Dominik Simon are all in the process of trying to make a case to stick on the NHL lineup too. Brian Boyle is still on a tryout and the team will need to make a decision on what they want to do with him as well.
And there’s also youngsters Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare, who have been left off the preseason roster for the last handful of games that are likely getting one final showcase on the NHL ice in front of the organization and NHL level coaches for a while. It would bode well for their future prospects to leave a reminder of what they have to offer.
We haven’t talked a ton about the defensive battle, but that’s just as interesting. Lately it has seemed like Chad Ruhwedel has emerged as the leading candidate to get the sixth and final lineup spot to start the season, with Ruhwedel practicing on a pair through much of camp with Marcus Pettersson. Pettersson won’t be playing in this game, but Ruhwedel will be out there.
Ruhwedel’s chief competition for that spot would be Mark Friedman, who luckily is going to play again after briefly being injured on Tuesday night during the game against Buffalo. Juuso Riikola and Pierre-Olivier Joseph, as left shots, probably don’t factor into the last lineup spot on the right side of the ice, but both will have another opportunity to show their stuff in an attempt to make the opening night roster as depth players.
After tomorrow’s game, Pittsburgh will have their final preseason game on Saturday night in Columbus. If that is used more as a tune up for the regular season, this could be the final opportunity for many playing tomorrow in Detroit to leave one last impression.