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Is it time to see what Ty Smith can do?

If Kris Letang is sidelined long-term the Penguins should see what they have in Smith.

NHL: SEP 25 Blue Jackets at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins are going to be without the services of Kris Letang for the foreseeable future after Wednesday’s scary news that he suffered another stroke.

Even though Letang seems determined to get back on the ice, and as soon as possible, it still remains to be seen when or if that will happen this season.

The most important thing: Letang’s long-term health, so patience and precaution need to be the top priority.

That obviously creates a pretty significant opening on the Penguins’ blue line.

In that absence the Penguins are going to need a couple of players to step up.

It is going to be a great opportunity for offseason addition Jeff Petry to make a bigger impact (not only as a top-pairing defender, but also the top point option on the power play) and for Marcus Pettersson to continue what has been a very strong season.

I also want to see what Pierre-Olivier Joseph can do with a bigger role.

He has played well so far this season and showed that he belongs in the NHL, but what exactly is his ceiling? Is it more of a bottom-half of the lineup defender, or is there still some top-pairing ability there?

But let’s throw another name into that mix.

How about Ty Smith? Could this be his opportunity?

And should it be?

Smith was one of the Penguins’ other big offseason additions, coming over from the New Jersey Devils in the trade for John Marino. So far, the trade is looking like a nightmare for general manager Ron Hextall and the Penguins. Marino has gone through a major transformation in New Jersey and is starting to again resemble the player he was during his rookie season when he looked like he was going to be a building block for the blue line. He has not only been one of the Devils’ top defenders and helped drive them to the top of the league standings, he has also been one of the best all-around defenders in the league. And that is not really an exaggeration or hyperbole, either. He has been that good.

Smith, meanwhile, has been toiling away in the American Hockey League, primarily because of the waiver situation where he was waiver exempt while Joseph was not.

Smith is so intriguing to me because he is still only 22 years old, is a former first-round pick, and has shown flashes of being able to make an impact offensively at the NHL level.

If we are being honest, he probably should be an NHLer.

He is an NHLer.

He just simply lost out on a numbers game and paperwork to lose that opportunity this season.

In 19 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton he has four goals and six assists. In two years with the Devils he averaged a 30-point pace with the Devils per 82 games with some hit-and-miss defensive zone play. He has talent, he still has potential, and he is still somebody that could theoretically be a long-term part of the defense.

But at some point the Penguins are going to have to figure that out, especially given that he is a restricted free agent after this season which is going to require some kind of a decision from management.

What better time than now to start seeing what he can do?

Especially when the other alternative options are Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Friedman.

I like Ruhwedel for what he is: A seventh-defenseman that can slide into the lineup in a bottom-pairing role, kill some penalties, and not exactly hurt you in small doses. He is not going to change much from what he is, and he is not going to be somebody that you rely on for a regular role, especially in a top-four role.

I think the same thing is true of Friedman, who I do appreciate for the level of chaos he can bring to any game at any moment.

But we have seen what those two are and what they are likely to continue being in the NHL.

At some point the Penguins have to figure out how — and where — Smith can potentially fit in this lineup, especially given the price it seems they paid to acquire him. You do not want Marino’s departure to end up being for nothing.

Why not start figuring it out now when you might have a real opening in a role where Smith’s skillset might be useful?

It might create a waiver headache later in the year if/when Letang returns, but if Smith plays well the situation takes care of itself and you keep him in the lineup and figure out what to do elsewhere.

If he doesn’t play well, and if he doesn’t seem to be a fit? Well, you were going to have to make a decision on him after the season anyway.

Find out what you have.