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Jason Zucker’s impending return shakes up all four lines

The Pens had a fresh look at practice today

Pittsburgh Penguins v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

Jason Zucker increased his workload at the Penguins practice on Wednesday. The injured forward, who has only played one game since Christmas, skated on a line and participated in drills with the second power play group.

With Zucker’s return, all four recent lines the Pens have been using were shaken up at least a little:

Coach Mike Sullivan likes to rotate for fit with a third forward joining set pairs, with Crosby+Guentzel long being an example of one. Evgeni Malkin + Rickard Rakell has been a newly united duo, with the veteran/youngster Jeff Carter + Kasperi Kapanen line in tow behind them on the depth chart. Finally, at least in recent days and weeks Brian Boyle + Teddy Blueger have been developing into the formation of the fourth line.

This current iteration could be close to the Pens’ preferred final form — with presumably still injured Brock McGinn eventually to find a spot as a fourth line winger eventual. There are still a handful of games to see if this preference meshes and how it fits down the stretch to see if further changes are needed.

Today the Pens bumped Evan Rodrigues down from Crosby+Guentzel to the Carter line, and reunited Bryan Rust with the top line. This opened up the right wind spot for Rakell to jump over. Rakell played almost exclusively as a RW this season in Anaheim, though he has mostly played on the left wing in his brief time with the Penguins. Rakell isn’t needed on the left any longer, with the return of Zucker to the lineup looking very near.

The other sign from practice was Mark Friedman and not Marcus Pettersson on the third pair. Those two have rotated in and out of the lineup in the month of March, and it looks like Friedman could be drawing back into the lineup for tomorrow night’s game against Minnesota.

The Wild are Zucker’s former team, and while no official word has come down to declare him back for the game, all signs are pointing to a return to the ice in his old stomping grounds.