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Defensive depth should be source of strength for Penguins

The Pens’ blueline stacks up well across the NHL

NHL: OCT 26 Lightning at Penguins Photo by Justin Berl/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Building off yesterday’s TSN look at the center situations around the NHL, the Penguins were in the second tier there, and that’s not much of surprise. The star power with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin remains very real, and then having Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger down the lineup present some options to be strong in their spots, with the capability of playing up a line as needed.

In the second portion of this league-wide rankings, TSN looked at the defensive lineups. While it wasn’t shocking that Pittsburgh ended up highly thought of from a national view in centers, they also slotted in second on defense. Here’s what Travis Yost wrote:

This group was on the fringes of Tier 3, but much like the Matheson trade was a win-later type of move for Montreal, the acquisition of the ever-reliable Petry makes sense today for the Penguins.

Defense was an area that got a significant shake up this off-season. Out are John Marino and Mike Matheson. In are Jeff Petry, Jan Rutta and Ty Smith. Pierre-Olivier Joseph might be somewhere in the picture for NHL graduation as well, given his waiver status. Joseph can now no longer be sent to the AHL without passing through waivers.

One interesting area was Yost included Chad Ruhwedel in his version of the Pens’ top-six group. Many have been operating under the presumption that by bringing in a right-handed players in Petry and Rutta to go along with Kris Letang that it might push Ruhwedel out of the lineup. That could be the case, but Mike Sullivan wasn’t shy about using four right-shot defenders at times last season. That includes during the playoffs when Brian Dumoulin was injured in Game 1 it was Mark Friedman coming into the lineup for the rest of the series, and not a left-handed call-up like Joseph.

Either way, the defensive overhaul does give Pittsburgh more depth options. Their top three slots are set in stone, barring injury, with Letang, Dumoulin and Petry sure to be the top-half of the blueline and sure to eat up a ton of minutes.

After that, the picture looks a bit unsettled. Based on the contract given, clearly there will be a place somewhere for Rutta. Marcus Pettersson, despite prior usage, could be given the chance to carve out an important niche and fill a bigger role.

From there, the sixth spot is probably as wide open as Sullivan’s willingness to explore. A left-handed youngster like Smith or Joseph has a natural spot to jump up and take, if either player holds up their end of the bargain and has a great pre-season.

Then there is the next level of players in Ruhwedel and Friedman, who are a little more “under the radar” or unheralded, but have been in Sullivan’s system for a while. Many project Friedman to be a victim of the numbers game — and surely (at least) one of the nine names in the mix will be lost in the shuffle — but Friedman does have the most experience playing on his off-hand.

Back in the big picture, the only way the Pens can be considered among the better defensive teams in the NHL would require a strong season for Dumoulin. It looks like, reputation-wise, there’s still a generally good opinion of him, even though his season last year wasn’t up to his sterling standards.

But if Yost’s outlook comes to pass, Pittsburgh should be in great shape for next season. Ron Hextall’s additions of Petry and perhaps down the line with Rutta and Smith could provide more depth and a high level of play from the defense. Add that into what’s been a better than average goalie, strong power play, and skilled forwards, and it should be another blueprint for the Pens gunning for a floor of being a 100 point team headed back to the playoffs.