The Penguins report to training camp in just two days and some players have gotten an early jump on camp going through informal workouts this week. Here are some thoughts and pressing issues surrounding the Pens.
Pens are Motivated: From talking with a contact yesterday who been around the team during their informal workouts this week, the sense is that this is a motivated group entering camp. I’m told a number of players appear to have a chip on their shoulder and remain disgusted on how the end of last season went.
Tyler Kennedy: As we noted last week, Tyler Kennedy is facing immense pressure in camp. However, it would still be shocking to some if Kennedy does not open up the season with the Penguins. The pressure is on Kennedy to remain in the top-9 with the additions of Aaron Asham and Mike Comrie.
Even if Kennedy fails to keep a spot in the top-9 and doesn’t become a fit in a 4th line role, he has a low cap hit and value around the league for Pittsburgh to eventually move him during the season. I see the Penguins keeping him to start the season. The team is hopeful that the competition in camp will bring out the best in Kennedy.
Ryan Craig/ Brent Sterling: Veteran forward Ryan Craig is regarded inside the organization as one of those sleepers in camp. Craig will have to make his mark in a 4th line role but he’s a longshot to beat out one of the Penguins forwards on one-way contracts. Meanwhile, Brett Sterling is a smallish forward on a two-way contract with some offensive ability.
Dan Bylsma caught some headlines this week in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, saying Sterling is a player who will see time with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in camp. Sterling scored 34 goals last season for the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.
Tangradi/Jeffrey: There is a lot of buzz surrounding Eric Tangradi and Dustin Jeffrey but don’t look for either player to make the team out of camp or push a Tyler Kennedy off the roster, at least not to start the season. Sources tell me, the Penguins want Tangradi to have a dominant camp and take that momentum to Wilkes Barre for the first month or two of the season. He’s looked at as a late November-January full time callup.
As for Dustin Jeffrey’s NHL prospects this season, he’s doing everything he’s been asked to do but evaluators I speak to around the league have major concerns regarding how his game will translate at the NHL level. The Penguins have better options to fill a 3rd or 4th line role.
Mark Letestu: While a lot of talk has centered around the likes of Eric Tangradi, and Dustin Jeffrey, the forgotten player in the mix is Mark Letestu.
If there’s one prospect whose going to make the opening night roster, I believe it will be Letestu who the Penguins like in a third line center role.
Paul Martin: The Penguins I’m told are very intrigued regarding Paul Martin’s offensive ability in Dan Bylsma’s system. Martin has great vision and some believe his assist total will increase to the 35-40 range in Pittsburgh. His career high for assists is 32 in 2005-2006, the last time he has had more than 28 assists in a season.
Mike Rupp/Pascal Dupuis: From an offensive production standpoint, the Penguins got surprise seasons from Michael Rupp and Pascal Dupuis in 2009-2010. Rupp scored 13 goals on the season and Dupuis added 18 goals, coming off a lackluster 08-09 season.
Rupp’s 13 goals last season surpassed a previous career high of 6. After tallying just 3 goals each in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009, was Rupp’s breakthrough season with the Penguins due to the Penguins uptempo system or did he just go through a lucky period? It was likely a factor of two. Rupp has some offensive skills and Dan Bylsma’s system brings those out but counting on another 13 goal season or even a 10+ goal season could be too much to ask for.
Rupp scored 11 goals in his first 45 games in 09-10. He finished the season with just 2 goals in his last 47 games (including playoffs).
Dupuis 18 goals last season was his highest goal total since scoring 20 goals in 2002-2003 for the Minnesota Wild. Since the lockout Dupuis has been a consistent 10-12 goal scorer per year but last year was somewhat of a breakthrough year. Dupuis projects to start the season with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins are going to need another 15-18 goal season with Bill Guerin no longer around.
Notes: Forwards Tom Kuenhnackl and Taylor Peters and defensemen Reid McNeill and Joe Rogalski have been returned to their junior teams, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Ray Shero.
The four players were participants in the Penguins 2010 prospect camp in London, Ontario.
Kuehnhackl, McNeill and Rogalski were drafted by Pittsburgh in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and will be playing in the Ontario Hockey League this season. Peters joined the team as on an amateur tryout basis and returns to the Western Hockey League.
Kuehnhackl (fourth round, 110th overall) enters his first season with Windsor. McNeill (sixth round, 170th overall) will play his second year with London. Rogalski (sixth round, 152nd overall) will be in his fourth campaign with Sarnia.
Peters will play with Portland of the WHL.