What the Staal Injury Means
The injury to Jordan Staal puts an early damper on the Penguins plan to reunite Evgeni Malkin and Staal together but it likely won’t change the Penguins stance of putting Malkin into more of a winger role this season.
The Staal injury opens up a prime opportunity for Mike Comrie to seize a spot alongside Malkin in camp.
Comrie’s versatility at wing and center gives the Penguins coaching staff the option of using Malkin at center in certain situations and at wing in others. A strategy the staff used prominently in the 2009 playoffs with Max Talbot playing center at times with Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko.
Dan Bylsma has stated this summer that the team doesn’t want to take Malkin completely away from the center position but get back to how they used him in the 2009 playoffs.
Comrie had a 53.2 faceoff percentage in 43 games last season and look for him to get a long look with Malkin to earn a spot on the second line in Staal’s absence.
How will everything shake out?
1st Line: Chris Kunitz is fully expected to remain with Sidney Crosby and I still believe Pascal Dupuis will keep his spot at right wing. The staff likes Dupuis ability on the fore-check and speed to the outside with Crosby. The team will likely explore other options on Crosby’s right wing but look for Dupuis to open the season there.
Prediction for opening night: Kunitz – Crosby – Dupuis
2nd Line: Malkin enters camp with no locks as linemates. As mentioned above, i fully expect Mike Comrie to get an extensive look in a center and wing role with Malkin. Comrie’s camp has indicated that the forward was told he would begin camp on one of the top-2 lines.
Staal being out of the lineup likely keeps Matt Cooke on the third line for the short-term. Max Talbot, Nick Johnson, have had success with Malkin in the past and both are expected to get a look. Tyler Kennedy, and Eric Tangradi will likely also see time.
For Tangradi to make the team, the Penguins feel he has to be completely NHL ready as the team doesn’t want to be forced to send him back to the minors a few weeks or months later. I expect him to begin the season in the minors and be in line for a full time callup by January at the latest.
Prediction on Opening Night: Talbot – Comrie – Malkin
3rd Line: Assuming the Penguins don’t move Matt Cooke up to the second line, Cooke and Aaron Asham are locks on the third line. The team will have plenty of competition to fill that third spot and find the right fit. Asham has the ability to play center and that will be an option but he’s more comfortable on wing. I see Mark Letestu winning the third line center spot out of camp.
Prediction on Opening Night: Cooke – Letestu – Asham
4th Line: Michael Rupp and Craig Adams are the two locks on the 4th line. Tyler Kennedy will have to hold off some of the Penguins emerging young players but for the short-term I expect him to keep a spot in the top-12.
Prediction on Opening Night: Rupp – Adams – Kennedy/ Godard (extra)
Players on Two-way contracts trying to win jobs: Mark Letestu, Eric Tangradi, Nick Johnson, Brett Sterling, Ryan Craig, Dustin Jeffrey, Chris Conner, and Nick Johnson