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Penguins’ defense depth strained further by AHL injuries

In addition to the four injured Penguins regulars, two potential call-ups are missing in action.

Ottawa Senators v Pittsburgh Penguins
Ottawa’s Derick Brassard skates against Taylor Fedun, who made his Penguins debut on Monday, during the Penguins’ 2-1 loss at PPG Paints Arena.
Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Marcus Pettersson was placed on long-term injured reserve with a lower-body injury yesterday.

At least he won’t be alone. He can hang out with Dmitry Kulikov, who is week-to-week with a lower-body injury, and Nick Bonino, who is recovering from a lacerated kidney. That’s not to mention that Jeff Petry is out day-to-day (upper body) and that Jan Rutta is also out (lower body.)

That’s four starting defensemen gone, which would be bad no matter what. But the situation is even worse for Pittsburgh than it might at first appear, because there are some significant gaps on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton blue line as well.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Ottawa Senators
Ty Smith skates with the puck during the Penguins’ game against the Senators in Ottawa on January 18.
Photo by Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

Ty Smith, who skated in nine games for the Penguins at the beginning of 2023, has been out with a facial fracture since February. Xavier Ouellet, who was named the WBS Penguins’ lone 2023 AHL All-Star representative after leading the team’s defense with 17 points (2-15—17) in 29 games, has been sidelined since December with an ankle injury.

And so the Penguins reached for Taylor Fedun, the 34-year-old defenseman who last skated in the NHL with the Stars over three years ago.

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One - Dallas Stars v Tampa Bay Lightning
Taylor Fedun walks to the locker room after warmups for the Dallas Stars during Game 1 of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.
Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Side note: Penguins fans may not know much about Fedun— he’s been with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for two years, during which he has been called up to the Penguins but sat out as a healthy scratch three times— but they may have heard of the difficult start to his career. It’s part of the reason why NHL icing rules are what they are today.

On Fedun’s first shift in professional hockey, during a preseason game for the Edmonton Oilers, Fedun skated back into his zone after the Minnesota Wild iced the puck.

At the time, the NHL determined icing based only on who touched the puck first, so Minnesota’s Eric Nystrom reached his stick around Fedun to try and cancel out the call. Fedun crashed awkwardly into the boards, shattering his femur.

In 2013, after an outcry raised by Fedun’s brutal injury, the NHL adopted a hybrid icing system. The league hoped stopping play if the player on the opposing team reaches the face-off dot first would eliminate those dangerous races into the boards.

And Fedun— who underwent over six hours of surgery to repair his broken femur— eventually made a comeback to professional hockey.

Twelve years later, Fedun made his Pittsburgh Penguins debut against the Senators, when he skated for two minutes and recorded two shots on Monday night— all because not one, not two, but six Penguins defensemen are down for the count at the most crucial point of this season.