With 58 healthy players on the ice and currently with the club, the Penguins have announced how they are divvying up into three groups for practices to start out their training camp. NHL training camps always move quickly and are subject to have players flip as soon as tomorrow if the coaches decide to do so. Either way, this current incarnation and split of the talent won’t last very long based on the scheduling.
The rhythm of the early days of camp have the Pens practicing starting today for the next three days, then switch into a mode for games or off days for the following three days from Sunday - Tuesday. After that, when they reconvene back into practice mode on Wednesday, they are already planning to be down to just two training camp “teams” - a clear sign that many junior/AHL players are looking at a very brief window of time in Pittsburgh before the first cuts are made.
Here are the first alignment of the three practice groups:
—All eyes are going to automatically turn to which player was going to receive the first crack at the illustrious role of skating on the vacant left wing of Sidney Crosby, due to the injury that will sideline Jake Guentzel for the first few games of the regular season. We’ll see how it looks on the ice but the camp roster suggests it could be either Rem Pitlick or Alex Nylander getting the first look. We’ll see how it look when Team A gets out there today.
Update: it was neither Pitlick nor Nylander in line drills with Crosby-Rust, but veteran Vinnie Hinostroza on Day 1. For the other team, Andreas Johnsson got work with Malkin and Reilly Smith.
—To re-emphasize the point above, NHL camp moves at a break-neck pace and will be over almost as soon as it gets going. There are only eight scheduled straight up practice days (not counting the morning game day skates). And remember, three of those eight are today, tomorrow and Saturday. First impressions will mean a lot, if things in Mike Sullivan’s mind aren’t more or less already known to him for who he wants playing with Crosby. It’s tough to be a Cinderella story or come from no where to win a job when by the weekend the practice portion of camp will be almost halfway in the books.
—Last year, you might remember, Valtteri Puustinen got a short-lived look in practice on Crosby’s line early in camp. Looked fun while it lasted, but was very brief. Doesn’t look like it will be the case this year with those two on different teams, but Puustinen is with Evgeni Malkin’s group and Rickard Rakell is (temporarily) away from both Crosby and Malkin, so there will be someone fun, young and new with Malkin - but only likely for a little bit. Malkin and newcomer Reilly Smith are in the same practice group and likely to link up sooner than later.
—Defense is almost as fun of a storyline with Erik Karlsson and Ryan Graves joining the Pens. As somewhat expected, it’s looking like the Pens will work towards having Karlsson and Marcus Pettersson playing as a pair (both on Team 1), with Graves syncing up with Kris Letang on Team 2.
—Competition could be fast and furious towards the bottom of the roster, with several forwards and defenders vying to round out the team. There’s no use in reading too deeply into first day combinations as being clear-cut signals for the future (see the Ty Smith - Jan Rutta pair from last year that was together almost all camp, but split when Smith was sent to the AHL), but it’s also unavoidable and meaningful to see what initial configurations are made. Team C has names like Drew O’Connor, Lars Eller, Jeff Carter, Noel Acciari and Matt Nieto on it, that should make up the bulk of the bottom-six.
One final positive sign was at the very beginning of the day. Guentzel took to the ice and skated with other injured players prior to all the group sessions.
Just caught the tail end of Jake’s session on the ice. Good to see him out there! -DP pic.twitter.com/Nyc3Ze6bSS— AT&T SportsNet™ PIT (@ATTSportsNetPIT) September 21, 2023
Guentzel had ankle surgery on August 2nd according to the team, and was announced to be re-evaluated for 12 weeks (which would be in late October). That was just over seven weeks ago, which sounds encouraging that he’s back on the ice. It’s unknown if the initial timeline has been accelerated, but Kyle Dubas did sound optimistic that Guentzel would not need to be placed on LTIR and be ruled out for the first 10 games earlier.