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Mike Sullivan calls Penguins training camp “most competitive group” since 2015

Training camp this week debuted everything from a new defense pairing to a revamped bottom six.

2023 NHL Winter Classic - Practices & Family Skate Photo by Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images

Since Mike Sullivan stepped in as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins in December 2015, he’s seen everything from two championships to the team’s first postseason whiff in 17 years.

But he’s never seen anything quite like this week’s training camp.

“This might be the most competitive group of players we have ever assembled,” Sullivan said Friday, per the Penguins on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The Penguins began training camp on Thursday with 58 players split onto three rosters. Although that’s a similar total to the 57 players the team invited to last year’s camp, it’s a different look.

Last year 23 camp invitees had skated for the Penguins the season prior. That number shrunk to 16 during 2023 camp as the team, minus a recovering Jake Guentzel, got a look at a potential brand-new top-two defense pairing of Erik Karlsson and Ryan Graves and what will likely end up being an entirely reworked bottom six.

Training camp is too early to be making final predictions on lines or pairings, but no matter how these lines shake out, those are some of the biggest changes Sullivan has seen in his eight seasons with the team.

“There’s probably been more turnover on our team this year than any of the years that I’ve been here, from a player personnel standpoint and even from a hockey operations standpoint, for that matter,” Sullivan said, per Michelle Crechiolo for Pens Inside Scoop. “So, it’s an exciting challenge, it’s a great opportunity for us.”

After general manager Ron Hextall’s decision to run it back after the team’s blown first-round series to the New York Rangers in 2022 helped doom the Penguins’ playoff hopes last year, this first training camp of the Kyle Dubas era feels like a fresh start.