Today marks one year since the Penguins announced they had invited forward Brian Boyle and defenseman Matt Bartowski to Pittsburgh for training camp on professional tryout contracts (PTO). Both ended up in the organization for the season, with Boyle sticking in Pittsburgh and Bartkowski headed out to Wilkes-Barre on an AHL contract.
While it’s not every year that every time brings in an unsigned vet to see what they have left, it’s still a possibility and common happening in the NHL. Sometimes these things come and go without much happening, like Jay McClement with the Pens that one year, or Sergei Gonchar in 2015 trying to keep his playing days going. Other times, there can be a real path to be somewhat of a contributor — like Boyle last year or Mark Eaton from way back in the day.
This time around, the Penguins don’t seem to have very obvious holes to fill. Last year, it was a very wise and good idea to bring in a veteran like Boyle when centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were set to start the season on injured reserve, it opened up a huge need on the team’s depth chart.
This time around, there’s not much of a need. Sure, it would be nice to grab a steady left shot defender or a solid bottom-six player for upgrades, but PTO’s are more emergency patches than actual contributors.
The well is also starting to dry up: Ryan Murray signed for league minimum in Edmonton, he’s been hurt but capable in glimpses. Sam Gagner also found a home Winnipeg on a one-year deal without needing a tryout and surely others will be following.
Pittsburgh is also at 47 of their 50 NHL contract limits, and for flexibility on future issues, there isn’t much reason to look for tryouts either.
Instead of veterans competing for jobs, this training camp for the Pens the excitement should come from youngsters.
On defense, newly acquired Ty Smith and prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph should both be right in the thick of the battle for a roster spot.
Up front, Teddy Blueger is locked into a fourth line job, but his linemates are way up in the air and could end up being constructed by any of the two of Josh Archibald, Ryan Poehling, Drew O’Connor and Radim Zohorna, with the experienced Drake Cagguila also somewhere in the mix. Another vet like Brock McGinn or Danton Heinen could be pushed from the top-nine forward group and likely lock up a spot on that line as well. The Pens probably wouldn’t mind if a youngster like Sam Poulin made a move and advanced from where he’s been in from last year too.
So while it would be fairly entertaining and an out-of-the-box idea to, say, give James Neal another shot at a tryout to see if he could rekindle some of the magic with Evgeni Malkin from a decade ago, the room and opportunity doesn’t look there this year. Last September, Neal played his way onto the Blues on a tryout, but unless the Pens are really looking to broaden their tent, it should be more internal at this point than external