On The Penguins: A daily installment on some key storylines heading into training camp
After the Arron Asham and Mike Comrie signings, the Penguins now have competition throughout their lineup from lines one through four.
With 13 veteran forwards signed to one way contracts, that includes 11 returning forwards, there won’t be an influx of young forward prospects making their way onto the opening day roster but roles previously held by returning forwards are not very secure.
Two forwards who will be under the microscope during training camp is 24 year old winger Tyler Kennedy and 26 year old forward Maxime Talbot.
The sense inside the organization is that both are at the stage where it’s time to find out if either player can take their game to another level.
At age 24, there is still some intrigue centering around Kennedy. Some believe Kennedy has the potential to be an 18-23 goal scorer and be a fit in a second line role.
In 2008-2009, the 5-foot-10, 183-pound winger scored 15 goals in 67 games and added 13 goals in 64 games last season.
However, a lack of consistency and trouble staying healthy has plagued Kennedy.
Kennedy enters training camp coming off an extremely disapointing 2009-2010 season that started out with a bang. He scored 5 goals in the first 9 games, and appeared primed for a career season, then suffered a groin injury and was never the same player. In the playoffs, Kennedy’s performance was awful, recording no points in 10 games and was a minus-6.
For Kennedy to become a consistent impact player and possibly take his game to another level, he’s going to have to change the way he plays.
The skill set is there but in the offensive zone Kennedy plays to the perimeter too often and fails to get himself in prime scoring opportunities. Kennedy is often regarded as taking too many ill advised shots from the outside, instead of looking for the open man in the slot.
It’s an adjustment in his game that is needed.
Kennedy has been a fixture on the 3rd line with Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke but it’s a line that figures to be broken up with Jordan Staal moving up to 2nd line center and Cooke possibily joining him on left wing.
Although this summer Pens GM Ray Shero named Kennedy as one of those players who the team wants to see if he can become a scoring line type of player, Kennedy will have to hold off incoming players and emerging young forwards in the Penguins system just to keep his spot as a regular on the 3rd line.
Max Talbot is a second player Shero has named in the media as a player the Penguins want to see if last year was just an off year or is this it.
Talbot had a frustrating 09-10 season, appearing in just 45 games due to off-season shoulder surgery that kept him sidelined for the first two months of the season. He had 2 goals – 7 assists and a minus-9 rating in the regular season and was even a healthy scratch at times.
Talbot is regarded by those inside the organization as a wildcard entering camp.
The mystery surrounding Talbot is where he’s going to fit in the lineup. A top-2 line role….3rd line center…. 4th line role?…..
Talbot’s entering camp healthy and is expected to get a look as a top-6 winger. In the Penguins 2009 Cup run, Talbot scored 8 goals playing a prominent role on the Penguins 2nd line.
Star forward Evgeni Malkin likes playing with Talbot but in the past Talbot has lacked consistency to be a top-2 line winger on a nightly basis. He’s been one of those players who provides a spark for a few games then his play fades.
Talbot is better suited to play a 3rd line energy role but due to the Penguins needing effective fore-checkers who can win battles in the corners on their 1st and 2nd lines, Talbot will get a look during camp to win one of the open winger spots.
As things stand right now, Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal are four of the Penguins top-6 forwards who project to play on the top-2 lines.
The staff likes to play Chris Kunitz with Sidney Crosby and don’t look for that to change.
When Jordan Staal gets healthy, he’s expected to center Malkin. That leaves a spot open on Crosby’s and Staal’s wing.
A front runner for one of those spots remains Pascal Dupuis who scored 18 goals last season. Head coach Dan Bylsma is very high on Dupuis who provides speed on Crosby’s wing and ability to get in the corners quickly for loose pucks.
Others who could get a look on Crosby’s right wing include Tyler Kennedy, Mike Comrie, Max Talbot and Eric Tangradi to a lesser extent. Tangradi is considered a longshot at this point to make the opening day roster.
If he does, there’s talk he’ll begin in a 3rd line role not a top-2 line role.
An ideal fit alongside Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin would be Matt Cooke and it’s expected that Cooke will be given an opportunity to move up to the second line. This is also a spot where Talbot will likely be given a look, much more so than getting time on Crosby’s line.