OFF-SEASON GAME PLAN
For the long-term, there’s not a position the Penguins are more equipped at than on defense, but when it comes to next season, there’s not a position with more question marks.
Among the pressing questions/Issues:
- Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik are free agents
- The long-term futures of Kris Letang, Paul Martin
- Can the Penguins find a trade partner for Rob Scuderi who has three years left on his deal and is a player from a leadership standpoint that the Penguins stars wrongly tuned out or does management believe he will play better in a different system?
- Olli Maatta had shoulder surgery, 4-6 month recovery time, but an injury that sometimes takes at least 6-9 months for a player to right again. Unlikely to be ready for start of the season
- Top prospect Derrick Pouliot had shoulder surgery with a recovery time of 4-6 months, hurting his chances of being much of a factor with the NHL club this season as team officials feel he needs at least a half season in Wilkes Barre to help tune up his play in his own end.
- Can Robert Bortuzzo be counted on for a full-time top-3 pairing role?
- Do you trade Simon Despres or hope his game takes off with a new staff?
The list could go on and on when it comes to the Penguins blueline but where decisions also have to made with the Penguins now five to six key decision makers, is whether to open up spots for some of their young d-men or start trading them to fill holes in other areas.
Excluding Derrick Pouliot for now, going into the start of next season, the Penguins have four young defenseman ready to play in the NHL, some ready for full-time roles, in Simon Despres, who has been ready for a while now, Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson.
Of the four, Penguins scouts are the highest on Scott Harrington.
Harrington and Dumoulin are not eligible for waivers, so the Penguins still have options to keep them in the minors but here’s where things get interesting.
Simon Despres and Philip Samuelsson are both subject to waivers next season. Neither would have a chance of clearing waivers, so management has to strongly factor in this issue when laying out a blueprint for the off-season, in addition to how many young guys do you really want in the lineup.
Samuelsson came on in a big way over the last two years in his development, establishing himself as a steady defensive defenseman who excels on the penalty kill. Some in the organization say he was Wilkes Barre’s best defenseman this season from a consistency standpoint.
Despres has been mis-used by the organization and his confidence was shot under Dan Bylsma and his coaching staff. Will he have new life under a new coaching staff? That’s something the Penguins have to wonder, although, some in the organization that aren’t too high on him, are still here.
The Penguins involved Despres in trade talks this past winter and other teams seemed to be down on him, and there wasn’t a deal that made sense for the Penguins.
Penguins Depth Chart on Defense
Paul Martin – Kris Letang
Olli Maatta (*Inj) – Robert Bortuzzo
Rob Scuderi – Simon Despres
Philip Samuelsson – Scott Harrington
Brian Dumoulin – Derrick Pouliot (*Inj)