The Pittsburgh Penguins have reduced their roster by 11 players, the team announced this morning.
Forwards: Chris Conner, Nick Johnson, Brett Sterling, Joe Vitale, Tim Wallace; Defensemen Robert Bortuzzo, Corey Potter, Brian Strait and Steve Wagner; Goaltenders Brad Thiessen and John Curry.
Sterling, Wallace, Potter, Curry, Conner and Wagner will all have to clear waivers by 12:00 p.m. on Thursday to be reassigned to Wilkes Barre/Scranton.
The transaction leaves 30 players on the Penguins’ roster: 18 forwards; 10 defensemen; and two goaltenders.
There are no surprises on the list, although some believed Brett Sterling would make it through the next round of cuts but I was never buying into talk that he was going to make the team.
There was no way the Penguins were going to risk losing a key player on a one-way contract (waivers) to clear a spot for Sterling who needed to clearly establish himself as a top-6 winger to make this team.
Nick Johnson being demoted at this stage has to be a disappointment for him after having such a strong camp in 2009. Johnson scored 2 preseason goals and had some good moments but lacked consistency throughout camp.
The big story is Simon Despres staying with the team along with Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Tangradi. Tangradi staying was expected and Jeffrey’s performance Tuesday night keeps him in the mix for one of the final forward spots.
Letting Despres open the season on the 9-game window remains somewhat of a consideration but the Penguins want to keep him around as long as they can to give him more experience with the NHL club. As Despres told me yesterday, he’s getting more comfortable everyday and if the Penguins can keep him around for another week, there’s no reason to send him back to juniors at this point.
This experience will be beneficial for him when he comes to camp next year.
Defenseman Corey Potter made an impression early in camp and provides a tough physical game but the Penguins fully expect him to clear waivers.
Another defenseman whose earned some praise from head coach Dan Bylsma of late was Steve Wagner whose spent some time at the NHL level with the St. Louis Blues. Told the Minnesota Wild could be a team to give him a look on waivers.
Joe Vitale is a player that Penguins management believes could be a key role player in the NHL but it’s unlikely that it will ever happen with the Penguins. Like Nick Johnson, I feel Vitale will need to leave the Pens organization to make it in the NHL.
How the Penguins are built, if your’re a Eric Tangradi or Simon Despres this is a great organization to come up through the system with but for these other guys, it’s going to be a difficult battle every year as the Penguins are built to win now and that will continue for years to come.