The Penguins have completed their exhibition schedule, and their finalized roster is due soon. The official end of training camp has arrived, with a few days of practice before the regular season begins for Pittsburgh on Thursday.
As with any camp, some individuals have seen their stocks rise, and others have fallen over the past few weeks. Let’s sort out some of them.
Ty Smith - After a two point effort in the game against Buffalo last night, it’s all but official that newcomer Ty Smith has won the only true job that was open this training camp for the actual playing lineup. Smith joined Jan Rutta early and almost exclusively this camp, he never gave coaches a reason to not want to see him and saw his performance gradually rise as the days went on. For the Pens, it’s pretty much a best case scenario that they can add a 22-year old defender with skating ability and puck skills to their blueline. Smith remains a work in progress defensively, but demonstrated in camp that he deserves a spot with Pittsburgh.
Sam Poulin - Poulin probably won’t make the NHL roster out of camp, but just seeing where he is at now compared to 12 months ago when he was barely on the radar represents a huge move and progression for the youngster. Poulin has transformed himself from a scoring line winger in juniors to what is becoming a future of a checking line center in the pros. As late as this summer, I would have been fairly skeptical about Poulin making his NHL debut in 2022-23 (short of like a one game cameo for four minutes when there are a bunch of other injuries, anyways). Now? Poulin has positioned himself to be a legit option for NHL games, as soon as necessary.
Ryan Poehling - The Pens are starting to think they might have something in Poehling. Training camp injuries to Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger opened a major door of opportunity for Poehling, and he’s made the most of it with a level of play that has impressed coaches. A lot has been said about Poehling’s adjustment to his new coach, scheme and teammates, so starting as the likely 13th forward is a perfect spot for him to integrate with the team and then be ready (probably sooner than later) when called upon to step into the game lineup and play.
The goalies - Coming off injuries at the end of season — and Tristan Jarry admitted that his broken foot required an extended amount of rest and rehab during the summer — there were reasonable questions about how sharp Pittsburgh’s top two goalies would look at the beginning of the season. Both have answered the bell in a very encouraging fashion. It was a strong exhibition season for Jarry and Casey DeSmith, both of whom have demonstrated they are 100% healthy and also sharp. A person doesn’t make it to the NHL without being supremely motivated, but both of these goalies have a lot to play for. It’s a contract year for Jarry, and DeSmith wants to prove he can hold up after injuries have ended his last two seasons. I am feeling what Josh Yohe at The Athletic also sensed, these goalies are well-positioned right now mentally to have great seasons.
Drew O’Connor - He wasn’t bad, but he didn’t stand out either. O’Connor was a player the Pens were hoping would make a serious run at a roster spot in camp, even though there wasn’t a ton of opportunity. But O’Connor made the choice to cut him an easy one. It’s not necessarily the end of the line for all hopes that he could make an NHL impact, but going into his third pro season at age-24, the clock is starting to tick louder.
Filip Hallander, Nathan Legare - A lot written above about O’Connor applies here. Hallander is a decent player but probably with a fourth line upside and doesn’t stand out among NHL caliber players. Not the worst guy to have in the organization, but also one that can come and go without much notice.
Legare and Poulin seemed to be in about the same boat at this time last year, but whereas Poulin has shown a ton of progress, Legare remains miles away from being an option for the NHL level. Six or 12 or 24 months ago, you probably would have hoped that both Hallander and Legare would be a lot further along than they actually find themselves at the moment. And like O’Connor, this could be cases of development needing more time and patience, but at this point it seems fair to wonder if either has much of a future at the NHL level.
Mark Friedman and/or Chad Ruhwedel - It’s not either one of these player’s fault to end up a loser due to poor play, but that’s life sometimes, is it not? Sometimes circumstances change and through no fault of your own, things end up getting worse. That is what has happened professionally for Friedman and Ruhwedel. Both played the last six playoff games with the Pens last year. Neither will be in the opening night NHL lineup. Worse yet, at least one is likely to be waived and assigned to Wilkes-Barre if they clear — purely as a salary cap casualty to help the Pens fit under the cap.
P.O Joseph - Even after last night, Mike Sullivan continues to say the right things and nice enough pleasantries about Joseph, but the actions of having Joseph mostly on the outside looking in this training camp speak louder than the words. Ultimately, between Sullivan and/or Ron Hextall, the Pens just haven’t quite seen “it” from Joseph in the past few years. Is that on them for missing the chance to help a younger player grow? Or did the player just not develop enough to make a consistent impact? There could be time for looking back on his path soon with camp cuts due soon, and the Pens reportedly looking to trade Joseph so that they don’t risk losing him for nothing on the waiver wire.