The Penguins made some roster cuts over the weekend and displayed some new look lines that could be getting close to season-ready on practice on Wednesday with the top group being composed of NHL players.
The lines today for the NHL group were:
Rickard Rakell - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Reilly Smith - Evgeni Malkin - Alex Nylander
Drew O’Connor - Lars Eller - Matt Nieto
And a rotating fourth line featuring Vinnie Hinostroza, Noel Acciari and Jeff Carter that had Austin Wagner and Radim Zohorna taking turns.
Defensively, it was all systems go with:
Ryan Graves / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / Erik Karlsson
P.O Joseph / Chad Ruhwedel
Ryan Shea / Mark Friedman
The biggest move was putting Rakell on his off-wing (a day after Mike Sullivan philosophized about the benefits of aspects of wingers on their off-wings) and up on a line with Crosby. Early in camp it was Vinnie Hinostroza there, who has now bumped down to the periphery.
Rakell has experience playing on the left wing, though he has mentioned that for passing purposes, he has played LW when being centered by a righty (as was the case when he was in Anaheim). In Pittsburgh, with Crosby and Malkin being left-handers, Rakell has been more of a right wing, even though as he’s said - and his shot chart reinforces - after the puck drops the alignment designation matters little.
“I don’t think it matters to me which side I am on,” Rakell said. “This system that we are playing, it’s that you line up on either side while on the faceoffs, but then you pretty much are reading off each other and just playing the game.”
Another telling move is some of the fringe players moving up and getting opportunities for solid showings so far in camp. The most important is Alex Nylander in a coveted spot next to Malkin. Zohorna also got to cycle into line rushes with NHL players, in a move that coincides with his very strong showing in the preseason games.
Versatility and fluidity is still a major part of setups at this point, with O’Connor and Eller also switching off in the middle for some rushes, to go along with the wide open nature of the fourth line at this point. Zohorna even was tabbed for the odd drill with Crosby.
For various reasons contractual and role-wise, it’s a good bet that Acciari and Carter will break from the team in fourth line spots. But who among Zohorna, Watson, Hinostroza (or even down the list for other candidates) might join them? At this point that looks to be the most interesting battle and spot up for grabs, especially if Nylander shows the ability to remain where he practiced today and starts the season on the second line.
Defensively there wasn’t too much notable or unexpected until getting way down the lineup and seeing Ryan Shea skating with the NHLers and Mark Friedman — and not Ty Smith. Whether a sign of things to come or a temporary decision, Smith’s absence among the group of NHL players was notable for a day at least.
The Pens have another pre-season game tomorrow night and Mike Sullivan has indicated that some key players will begin to be in the lineup as they ramp up for the start of the season.
That start is coming soon, Pittsburgh only has four exhibition games and just four scheduled practices remaining after today in their training camp. Now into the second wek of camp, the gears are starting to shift to put more pieces in place for where they might start the season.