Latest Penguins Training Camp Buzz

TIOPS Storylines
[Haggerty, Blueger Impress]
[Patience waning with Sprong?]
[Numbers game/Aston-Reese]
[Staff leaning towards Johnson/Maatta?]
[Riikola/Scouts Buzz]
[Rust primed for 50+ point season?]

In a sense, Penguins training camp officially begins today.

After Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Red Wings, Pittsburgh cut down their roster to 27 and return to the ice this morning after an off-day yesterday.

Like all of the major pro sports, the NHL preseason/training camp is about 7-10 days too long and preparations for the regular season start this week where the experimenting phase with non-NHL players for this season is pretty much over.

Here’s the Latest Buzz surrounding the Penguins:

— Forwards Ryan Haggerty, Teddy Blueger among the cuts on Sunday, have created buzz in the organization with their trajectory and the strong camps they had. Haggerty has reminded some of Carter Rowney from his camp performance in 2016 that set the stage for him to eventually become part of the NHL club as the 2016-2017 season progressed. The coaches are intrigued about Haggerty’s two-way game and are not ruling him out being someone that gets a look at some point this season when injuries pop up.

Blueger is NHL ready, everyone around the team knows it. Pittsburgh knew it in July before they went the Matt Cullen route and then signed Derek Grant.

Blueger just continues to be stuck in a numbers game with the Penguins having six centers on one-way contracts and problem for Blueger is every NHL team has a Teddy Blueger in their system, meaning he doesn’t carry great trade value, despite a strong consensus he’s ready for an NHL bottom-6 role.

— There continues to be doubts around the team and especially outside Pittsburgh that Mike Sullivan and his staff will have any patience for Daniel Sprong to stick on Sidney Crosby’s line. The staff has been frustrated with Sprong’s inconsistent play in camp, sources say. We’ll find out this week, though, if Sprong on Crosby’s wing continues by default (something managements wants to see into the regular season) but don’t count on it.

— A developing situation ahead of the final roster cuts early next week. The coaching staff is said to strongly want Zach Aston-Reese on the roster to start the year and Aston-Reese has had a great camp. He’s not ready to play a top-6 role by any means but the staff loves what he brings to the table in a bottom-6 role. There’s been excellent chemistry between Matt Cullen/Aston-Reese. However, the numbers game (Aston-Reese doesn’t have to clear waivers) still looms when Riley Sheahan is healthy and Dominik Simon pretty much locked into a top-12 spot among the forwards for now in a third line role. The plan is also to use Cullen on left wing when Sheahan is healthy another obstacle for Aston-Reese.

To read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!

— Defenseman Juuso Riikola has been the talk of camp and rightfully so. What do the Penguins have in Riikola?

A consensus among NHL scouts is that Riikola would not be able to defend effectively enough at the NHL level to be a regular. We still don’t know that obviously. Preseason games 1-4 are filled with non NHL players. It’s not a great evaluation period for that.

What the Penguins may reap the benefits of down the road is taking a chance of skill and hockey smarts. Penguin scouts and assistant GM Bill Guerin [hide] identified this immediately when scouting Riikola in Europe. His skill set fits the Penguins style when it comes to playing fast and executing a strong transition game.

The best move in the short-term is to still get Riikola in WBS for a top-pairing role and go from there.

Bryan Rust is drawing great praise in the organization for the camp he’s having. On the heels of a new long-term contract, he’s come to camp even more explosive team sources say and the Penguins love the way he’s shooting the puck in camp. Team officials strongly believe he’s primed for a 20 goal, 50+ point season.

Jim Rutherford was so adamant about trying to re-acquire Matt Cullen at the trade deadline, word from Chuck Fletchers inner circle is that Rutherford to the dismay of his staff, was willing to offer a 2nd-round pick and mid-level forward prospect for Cullen in the final hours before the deadline. No one around the league is surprised Cullen returned to Pittsburgh on July 1 and is pegged for a regular role at age 42. [/hide]