For some Penguins forwards, earning a roster spot out of camp was just the first step and the real battle to keep a full-time spot is now under-way as Jordan Staal (foot) and Arron Asham (shoulder) are slowly working their way back to full health.
Asham is progressing from a shoulder injury and is expected to return to the lineup in about 2-3 weeks. Asham is slated to be focal point on the Penguins third line with Matt Cooke.
Meanwhile, Staal is slowly inching back to health and barring a setback, should be on track to return to the lineup in 4-to-6 weeks.
The Penguins are currently carrying 13 forwards and in all likelyhood, two forwards will have to go when both Asham and Staal return.
Assuming there are no long-term injuries at the forward position during this time period, players whose spots could be in jeopardy when Asham and Staal get back, have about a three-to-six week window to solidify their spot with the team.
Here’s a look at five players on the hot seat:
1. Eric Tangradi | 4GP-0G-1A-1PTS-(-2)-14:13 ATOI
Analysis: Despite a strong pre-season, the 21 year old forward would have begun the season with the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League, if Arron Asham didn’t suffer a shoulder injury and placed on injured reserve.
Not being eligible for waivers, Tangradi remains a prime candidate to be sent down when the Penguins get their roster at full health.
Tangradi enters a crucial couple of weeks and will need to solidify his spot on the roster as a top-9 player. He needs to make it impossible for the Penguins to send him back down as there is still a thought that he could use some seasoning in the minors.
2. Mike Comrie | 3GP-0G-0A-0PTS-(-1)-16:20 ATOI
Analysis: The Penguins have little commitment to Comrie who is on a one year contract worth $500,000.
A healthy scratch against the Leafs on Wednesday night, if Comrie doesn’t solidify a spot on one of the top-2 lines, his spot on the roster could become in jeopardy when Staal and Asham get back.
He doesn’t kill penalties which also hurts his cause of staying in the lineup over the likes of others who provide versatility, if he continues to struggle offensively.
There are also doubts that Comrie can be effective in the type of third line the Penguins want to have with Matt Cooke and Arron Asham on left and right wing respectively.
3. Eric Godard | 1GP-0G-0A-0PTS-3:24 ATOI
Analysis: Any talk of Eric Godard’s roster spot being in jeopardy during training camp was laughed off by several Penguins officials during the time.
However, Godard’s role with the team continues to come into question. The consensus among league observers is that the Penguins have enough toughness to withstand getting rid of Godard who played just 3 shifts against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Deryk Engelland’s emergence as one of the toughest players in the game also favors an argument of getting rid of Godard.
But, the influx of heavyweights in the Eastern Conference has contacts believing Godard sticks around.
4. Tyler Kennedy | 4GP-1G-1A-2PTS-(+2)-11:15 ATOI
Analysis: Tyler Kennedy is very much on the hot seat over the next 4 weeks or so. At the start of the season, injuries opened up an opportunity for Kennedy to regain his spot in the top-9 and he has a ways to go in doing so.
He’s been “OK” after a very strong opening game but his play appears to have tailed off after the opener. Still playing to the outside too much and he doesn’t appear to be doing the things consistently that the coaching staff wants to see like playing less from the outside and getting to the inside in the offensive zone.
On a side note, those around the league continue to indicate that Kennedy has trade value around the league.
5. Mark Letestu | 4GP-2G-0A-2PTS-(-1)-15:30 ATOI
Analysis: In the eyes of many, Letestu has been the best overall player since the start of training camp. Inside the organization he’s regarded as a player whose locking down a full-time spot but we are still only four games into the season.
Despite being very safe for now, he has to keep playing at the level is.
*I expect Craig Adams and Pascal Dupuis to come up from readers. Both are very safe on this roster. The Penguins feel Dupuis can play anywhere in the lineup and he’s also one of the team’s top penalty killers.
A good argument could be made for Craig Adams that it might be time to go younger for the role he plays but the coaching staff loves what Adams bring to the table, especially from a leadership role. Also, he’s one of the team’s top-4 penalty killers which will keep him around.