BENNETT WON’T RETURN UNTIL AFTER OLYMPIC BREAK
Beau Bennett’s wrist injury is more of an 12 week injury than the initial diagnosis of 8-10 weeks. The Penguins learned this week that Bennett will remain sidelined for at least another four weeks and the question now is how does this affect the Penguins trade deadline plans?
It doesn’t affect much I’m told. Pittsburgh has been operating with the mindset for weeks now that due to the Olympics, the best case scenario has been that he would only be able to get a game or two in before the Olympics anyways. How Bennett might look with Sidney Crosby for a few games won’t have any impact on the Penguins plans.
The team remains very much in the market for a third line winger and top-6 winger, though, having no second round pick and being lukewarm on moving a first round pick for any rental wingers out there, could prove difficult for the Penguins to acquire two top-9 forwards by the deadline.
The thing with Bennett is this: Despite the added pressure it may bring, the Penguins are not against him earning a spot on Sidney Crosby’s right wing down the stretch, but the Penguins feel they need more than one option beyond Bennett which has them targeting versatile speed (two-way) players who could possibly fit on Crosby’s right wing or slide into a third line role and bolster the bottom-6. The coaching staff wants options there and they feel speed is critical to playing with Crosby.
There has even been some internal discussions of loading up a top line of Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and James Neal, and finding a winger for Evgeni Malkin at the deadline, if there’s a better fit out there for Malkin than Crosby.
NHL sources say the Penguins are doing a lot of homework in recent weeks on Maple Leafs third line winger Nikolai Kulemin who is an UFA at seasons end and not to mention Evgeni Malkin’s best friend, though, that has nothing to do with possible interest in him.
Many have tried to throw his name out there in recent years because of the Malkin connection but the interest finally appears real from the Penguins end.
I’m told what could potentially attract the Penguins to Kulemin is his two-way play. His numbers have dropped significantly since a 30 goal season in 2010-2011, but the Penguins like his well rounded game, he kills penalties, is responsible and shows some flashes offensively due to an above average skill set.
He’s one of those players who could fit the mold of being able to bolster the third line but also slide into Crosby’s spot and or Malkin when needed. Kulemin has 72 hits in 35 games and very good size at 6-1, 225 lbs.
A name I’m told to keep an eye on as the deadline approaches.
MORE INJURY BUZZ
The Penguins on Monday received some good and bad news
The Bad: Joe Vitale is out for around three weeks, while Brian Gibbons who has been a decent stop-gap option on Sidney Crosby’s wing, is week to week at this point. Meanwhile, James Neal is absent from practice again today as he is believed to be dealing with a nagging injury.
The Good: Paul Martin, Jason Megna and Chuck Kobasew are close to returning. Martin and Megna will be re-evaluated tomorrow.
PENGUINS RECALL DRAZENOVIC
The Pittsburgh Penguins have recalled forward Nick Drazenovic from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League (AHL), the team announced. Drazenovic is 5th on Wilkes Barre with 20 points in 26 games this season.