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Insider Only With Pens’ getting healthy, doubts about Comrie securing a “role” loom

The re-assignment of forward Eric Tangradi this morning was not a shock by any means as the move had been expected to happen this week, based on talk from team contacts before the Penguins left for Nashville last Wednesday.
With Tangradi and defenseman Andrew Hutchinson being sent down, the Penguins active roster is now at 22 with 13 forwards, 7 defensemen and 2 goaltenders.
The moves cleared the way for Arron Asham to come off of injured reserve and Jordan Staal’s return to the lineup in the near future.
Will the Penguins make any more roster moves in the wake of Staal’s return? Likely not.
There has been little trade activity regarding the Penguins making any potential roster moves as for the short-term the team is expected to carry 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and 2 goaltenders once Staal is back.
With there being no indications that the team is even considering the possibility of parting ways with Eric Godard, carrying 14 forwards is a must for Pittsburgh.
The 12 regulars on Wednesday night against Tampa Bay will be Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis, Mike Comrie, Mark Letestu, Evgeni Malkin, Matt Cooke, Max Talbot, Arron Asham, Mike Rupp, Tyler Kennedy and Craig Adams with Eric Godard as the likely scratch.
The Penguins were off today and a first look at the reconfigured lines now that Asham is back and Tangradi is gone, won’t come until Tuesday’s practice.
When Staal returns, one of the 12 current regulars will sit on a nightly basis and competition to stay in the lineup will be intense and it’s something the Penguins haven’t had at times over the past couple seasons with Godard in the past being one of the 12 regulars or the 13th forward.
Predicting how the Penguins lines will shakeout when Staal returns is difficult.
What we do know is that four of the six top-2 line spots will be filled by Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby on the top line and Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin on the 2nd line.
Let’s take an inside look at 10 forwards based on their current stature on the depth chart and evaluate the options that the coaching staff is likely to explore:
Pascal Dupuis | 1st Line RW | 9GP-1G-1A-2Pts-+1|
Analysis: Dupuis continues to find ways to stay on the first line as the coaching likes his speed to the outside and his ability on the forecheck with Crosby and Kunitz. While Dupuis is not a ideal top-6 winger, he has the ability to play anywhere in the lineup and remains a lock to stay in the lineup also because of his ability on the penalty kill. Until someone proves to be a better option, Dupuis is going to keep getting a look on the top-line.
Mike Comrie | 2nd Line LW | 8GP – 0G – 4A – 4PTS – 0|
Analysis: Comrie has 4 points in his last 4 games but he has had minimal impact at even strength, tallying just 2 even strength points on the season. Other than making a play here and there in the playmaking department, Comrie has been non-existent in the offensive zone. He has just 11 shots on goal in 8 games played.
Hence, there are serious doubts from league evaluators I’ve spoken with in the past couple days that Comrie will make it with the team through the entire season.
Why is there that feeling around the league? Two primary reasons include his speed and all around game.
The consensus is that Comrie’s speed is lacking to play Dan Bylsma’s system properly and his all around game is “horrific”, according to one evaluator. Comrie fails to win battles in the corners or along the wall and the vibe from those in the know is he has the look of a player that the coaching staff is going to grow extremely frustrated with in time.
Playing a top-6 role appears to be the only option as Comrie lacks the ability to play a 3rd and 4th line role, regarding the type of role the Penguins look for in their 3rd and 4th liners.
For the short-term though, indications are that the Penguins will give Comrie every opportunity to win a spot in the top-6 but there are only two spots open and I don’t expect the Penguins to stick with Comrie as long as they did with the underachieving Ruslan Fedotenko last season.

Mark Letestu | 2nd Line Center | 9GP – 4G – 3A – 7PTS- +4|
Analysis: One of the wildcards among the group of forwards who could see time in a top-6 role on wing or a depth role as the 3rd or 4th line center.
As long as Letestu continues to play at a high level, he’s going to be one of those forwards that the staff uses in a number of different areas. Letestu is a player who could knock Mike Comrie out of a top-6 role and into the press box.
Where Letestu fits into the lineup though will depend if he can maintain his high level of play.
Matt Cooke |3rd Line LW | 9GP – 1G – 3A – 4PTS – +2|
Analysis: Cooke has been a focal point on the third line and will likely remain in that spot as the plan going into the season was for Cooke and Arron Asham to play together on the 3rd line.
However, with Staal close to returning, there is believed to be some thought of giving Cooke a look with Staal and Malkin on the 2nd line due to Staal and Cooke’s success together. But, that is something I’d only expect to see for a short period of time and not a long-term move.
Max Talbot | 3rd Line Center | 9GP – 1G – 0A – 1PTs – 0
Analysis: Talbot has yet to regain his form from 2008-2009 and with the Penguins getting healthy, I would consider him a fringe player to stay in the lineup on a nightly basis. Talbot is going to be pushed by Mark Letestu for the 3rd line center spot and head coach Dan Bylsma has not been shy about scratching Talbot in the past.
If Talbot is unable to lock down the 3rd line center spot, he will be pushed by the likes of Craig Adams and Tyler Kennedy to stay in the lineup.
One avenue that isn’t likely to be explored is Talbot getting an extended look on the 2nd line with Staal and Malkin. Something I felt could have been a possibility before the season but not now.
Tyler Kennedy | 3rd Line RW | 9GP – 1G – 2A – 3PTS – +3|
Analysis: Kennedy has had an up and down performance through 9 games but I’ve heard positive vibes about him and that the team has been pleased with his play and there’s even talk that Arron Asham may start on the 4th line Wednesday night with Kennedy keeping his spot on the 3rd line.
Kennedy also remains an option to possibily get a look on one of the top-2 lines.
Mike Rupp | 4th Line LW | 9GP – 1G – 1A – 2PTS – -1″|
Analysis: Rupp’s role with the team won’t be changing as the Penguins get healthy. He remains locked into his 4th line role and remains a likely candidate to stay in the lineup on a nightly basis due his toughness presence and versatility.
Craig Adams | 4th Line Center | 7GP – 0G – 1A – 1PTS – 0|
Analysis: Adams’s spot on the roster is not in jeopardy but he’s a player whose probably going to be the odd-man out from the start when Staal returns. Adams has been a healthy scratch two times this season but the coaching staff is very high on him and value his leadership qualities tremendously.
I would look for him to bounce in and out of the lineup but expect him to still be around come playoff time.
Eric Godard | 4th Line RW | 3GP – 0G – 0A – 0PTS – +1|
Analysis: Appearing in 3 games and averaging 4:24 of ice time, Godard will only dress when the Penguins feel they need an enforcer in the lineup.
Arron Asham | Right Wing | DNP|
Analysis: The plan going into the season was for Asham to be a focal point on the 3rd line with Matt Cooke. Off the bat, that may not happen as the Penguins look to ease him back into action. Asham starting out on the 4th line wouldn’t be a surprise. He’s a player who can play up and down the lineup and the Penguins feel he has the offensive ability to take some shifts on one of the top-2 lines.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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